tinsel spring

Marrionetta extruded more chlorophyll slime into the bucket beneath her chin. Violet patted her forehead and neck down with a cool washcloth. The pupptress’s hair was tied up in pretty french braids — safely away from her mouth and sweating temples. The braids were Violet’s handiwork.

“Were they in here?” Violet asked, gingerly pushing in on one of Marrionetta’s little body drawers. There were three drawers inside Marrionetta. One in her neck that pulled out long. A slender vertical cabinet that opened laterally down the length of her arm. The last was a small, round pocket in her lower abdomen. They were all pegged tightly shut. Using her finger, Violet lightly outlined their silhouettes. Marrionetta nodded. Yes, that’s where the organ plugs were stored.

Violet had been keeping herself in the dressing rooms with Marrionetta. Marionetta slept almost exclusively on the ruby red sette. She didn’t seem to mind that Violet had taken the bed on the platform. There were a few other unspoken rules and ideas that had emerged between the two of them. Violet went and fetched her meals, braided her hair, and changed out her vomiting bucket every hour or so. Marrionetta had begun sharing little favors of her own with Violet, insisting she try some of her expensive perfumes or treating herself to a silk robe for the day.

During a long stretch of afternoon, the two dancers had touched on the exploratory idea that Violet might be able to remove the implants inside of Marrionetta. They could use Marrionetta’s various pries. Marrionetta had collected many good quality tools over the years — mostly gold plated or decorated with small gems — to open and close her private drawers and to cinch open her pegs. She didn’t like to do it though. Lorelei had used his own tools. They were cold, she recalled. For the removal, it all just depended on when Marrionetta could work up the nerve. Violet hadn’t pressed the issue once it had been delicately floated during one of their many oblique conversations. Marrionetta was still feeling extremely sick and they both wondered if removing them altogether would hasten an even nastier outcome.

There was a rapid knock on Marrionetta’s door. “Mary!” came a sprucing command. “It’s Goren! Let me in, please?”

“Priggin’! Foo!” Marrionetta’s mouth turned into a layering frown. Then, her stomach upturned and she quietly spat a long, silken strand of green mucous which hung forever and a day from her mouth before depositing itself into the bucket. “Make him go away.”

Violet moved towards the door. “Miss Mary isn’t feeling well at the moment.”

“Violet?” asked Goren. “Thank god. Open the door. Mary’s needed at rehearsal. The major is in less than three weeks. We have to stage out her latest choreography.

Violet’s hands traced up her forearms. She looked at Mary with questioning eyes. Marrionetta waved her hands irritably. No.

“Maybe later?” Violet asked through the door.

Goren started pounding on the door. “Marrionetta, you selfish, wayward, dolly! If you don’t show up for rehearsal we can’t lay out the stage rigs! Nobody else can get rehearsed. The shifts will spend all of opening night crashing up against each others’ noses and your very own cherished, stinking act will be a lousy, hazy mess just thanks to everyone’s inability to sort out the operational trim! So quit lying around like a useless bunch and get your shaven sticks to the big top!”

“Tinsel spring!” Marrionetta shouted back through the door. Violet looked confused.

“What?” said Goren.

“Tinsel spring! The year we put on the silver tinsel and Ernt had the elephants dressed as fairies. I’ll do that one. So set it up that way.”

There was a long pause on the other side of the door.

“Fine,” Goren said at last. “But you had better be there tomorrow!”

They heard Goren stomp away down the hall. Marrionetta cinched her nose at Violet, a finely tuned enmeshing of spite and laughter. Violet smiled back, nervous that she had somehow won Marrionetta’s momentary favor. Then Marrionetta stuck her head back in the bucket and vomited threefold.

several, competing arrangements

Tasked with two buckets, a rucksack, her cleats, and a fresh bouquet of daffodils for her ailing mistress, Violet trudged back from the pasturelands towards the big top and its subterranean dressing rooms. One of which was still occupied by the flagging Marrionetta.

Things with Augromme had been steadily progressing. She had to keep up the clandestine habit of only visiting him while he was put out to graze. Ungulen still hadn’t caught on that she was rehearsing the grievous creature in her spare time. The zombified, nightmare elephant was picking up the dance routines in fits and starts. One week he would have grasped something superbly but then the next, he would forget nearly all of it. Almost purposefully, Violet felt. Essentially, he was a frustrating mess. Still, she felt certain that if she could get him into some kind of rhythm, some kind of mutual understanding, she could unleash his beastly bravado as a major coup for her showcases.

Practice with the healthy, un-brainsick elephantrinas was no less demanding. She had introduced new choreography and they had all been working on that together for several weeks. The elephantrinas were doing remarkably well with it but the constant count offs, repetitions, and management of their temperaments was draining. Still, Goren and Ungulen had agreed to extend her foray as manager of the elephant showcases. So, for better or worse, she was contractually obligated now. Violet couldn’t decide if she was pleased to be locked into the performance schedule as an official second bill for the circus or if she had gotten herself in over her head. Could she succeed the next time around? Would she soon fail to magnificent fanfare? Or was she better than all this? Perhaps the elephant show was beneath her and a waste of her time, youth and talents. It was hard for her to say which version of her predicament was the most real. So instead, each of the three blended together into an unfocused, self-feeding cycle of crushing doubt that released into giddy flights of pulsating energy that could keep her going for days.

Things with Marrionetta hadn’t been progressing at all. The star was a fixture on her chez-lounge, languid and pale. Violet continued to sleep up in the canopy cot in the dressing room with her and she was constantly at the star’s beck and call. Marrionetta could be harsh with Violet. At other times though, she was sweet, even circumspectly grateful. The otherwise fiendishly practiced puppetress was clumsy with her gratitude. Any word of thanks she gave was accompanied by avoidant eye contact or a rushed gesture. Yet, to Violet, this seemed genuine. Or at least it wasn’t an act. The unvarnished aspects of Marrionetta were like bird calls through dense, thick trees. Evidence of a life unperceived, except by those paying close, close attention.

In the mornings, Violet would breakfast with Ungulen down in the public mess. Buttering toast and chattering away on her flimsy, flighty energy of underslept resilience. It was a lie to eat with him. He didn’t know about her several, competing arrangements. As far as he knew she was handling the elephant show and that was it. Had he known that she had become Marrionetta’s full time caregiver or the de facto dance instructor to the wild and unpredictable Augromme, he almost certainly would have had words for her. As it was though, they broke bread in the curling sunshine of green mornings, discussing anything and everything that didn’t matter at all.

 

“cercle!”

Far off from the circus, there was an autumnal chill in the woods. Leaves were draining out their greenery and rusting out matte. A bitter little wind hushed its way through the trees tops. Rustia and Mingey tooled around the perimeter of a dilapidated barn. They were quite snug in wooly, cable knit sweaters. Mingey, of course, was looped around Rustia’s shoulders as Rustia pedalled the unicycle.

Mingey peeled off her sweater and threw it on the ground close by. Immediately, she began shivering. She retrieved a black, wooden hoola-hoop off the siderack of their unicycle and brought it to her tapered, shrunken waist. She swang her hips around and around, building a soft rhythm.

Rustia continued to cycle slowly around the barn. She was patiently practiced in attending to Mingey’s mis-en-place. Rustia put her arms out to their full spread. Mingey tip toed gracefully out onto the left arm. She placed one careful footfall after the next. Her hooping was in a full and graceful largo. She reached the terminus, which was Rustia’s upturned palm. In the palm of her sister’s hand, Mingey set both her feet en pointe, balanced now only on her toes. Once she found her breathing point, Mingey bent her waist at an angle, and lifted up one foot. She was now balanced on a single toe, hoola-hooping gently in her sister’s outstretched hand.

“Attends-sautee!” Mingey squeaked in her over pronounced accent from a country she’d visited only once. Rustia’s arms stiffened and broadened with musculature.

Mingey hopped! She landed softly on her opposite toe on Rustia’s cramming shoulder.

“Attends-sautee!” Mingey squealed again. She hopped into Rustia’s opposite palm.

“Cercle!” Mingey announced, a grin poking the bones of her cheeks. She wound herself, almost effortlessly, in a perfect circle, hoola hooping all the way.

“We should get that parasol in the act,” Rustia barked. “That should get Mister Doctor’s attention, alright.”

“Mmmmm,” Mingey smiled.

go away

Marrionetta, recently returned from her arduous walk in the woods, moaned and curled herself on the sette in her dressing room. The various plugs of endocrine tissue within her were fading out. As the cold swallow engulfed her, it left behind a hollowness that was was familiar and freshly unbearable.

Her joints were all splintering. She pricked herself all over, leaving scratches on her unpolished surfaces.

There was a knock at the door. A female voice ventured, “Miss Mary?”

“Go away,” Marrionetta humidly breathed into the sette.

“Miss Mary?” they hadn’t heard her.

Marrionetta rallied herself and rasped, “Go away!”

There was a pause at the door. “It’s Violet.”

Violet, Marrionetta thought. She had meant to see Violet’s elephant show but hadn’t quite gotten around to it in the depths of her lolligag. Hadn’t she thrown jam jars at that poor girl? She had impressive posture, Marrionetta remembered. She liked that. Not all the dancers cared about their appearance the way Violet did. Most of them slouched around, smoking like chimneys, obscening their ways into various pairs of trousers. Violet was a bit more walled off. Discrete, maybe.

Marrionetta’s stomach churned and she puked quietly on the floor. She wiped her mouth and took a long, hard look at her reflection across the room in the vanity mirror.

At last, Marrionetta croaked “It’s open.”

Ungulen’s ribs

Ungulen is a superstitious creature. Superstition is hereditary for goats and is a common linguistic underpinning of their bleating languages. It’s challenging, however, for goat people to put these ideas into the words of human languages. So even though Goren Hargus and Ungulen had developed mutual suspicion of Doctor Lorelei in connection to the disappearance of the lever boys, Ungulen struggled to convey the depths of his feeling. This despite the fact that Goren Hargus was a trusted friend.

Perhaps even more than that, Ungulen was hesitant to say what he thought out loud. There is a potent, spellbinding aspect to giving voice to one’s deepest fears and intuitions. Disturbing the fungus, after all, can only provoke spores. Any woodland creature knows this rule as a matter of course. Ungulen instinctively kept his private feelings between his sturdy ribs.

Privately, in those ribs, he felt that something violent must have happened to the missing lever boys. They had been threatened, maimed, scared off, something. Fear was in play. He hadn’t seen or heard anything definitive so all was speculative at best. Conversely, he also couldn’t ignore the fact that his chief assistant, Ossip, was apparently friends with the doctor. Whatever was happening, it had dimensionality. Ungulen didn’t want to play his cards too quickly.

exchange rates

Goren Hargus had seen the silverbacks. He knew they were of southern Germanic origin. Land of cows. He had weighed several examples of the coins in his office on a small but highly accurate scale. They were genuine and very valuable. He had seen too many of them for his liking but prior to his conversation with Ungulen, he hadn’t realized that their distribution might be even more widespread than previously thought.

Foreign currency is like a weed. It can choke out the beautiful flower of a perfectly sound and harmonious economy. The circus economy could be quartered out neatly among booze, cigarettes, gambling debts, and shift hours. The latter two being more weighty than the former but all their relative exchange rates usually remained quite steady. Goren credited himself with this fine tuned modulation of the circus market. He was a controlling stock owner in all four quadrants, after all.

Ungulen’s question about the doctor’s character had spurred Goren to compose a full treatise on how much of this silverback slime might have worked its way into the circus’s lifeblood already. His conservative estimates were well within standards and didn’t threaten too much of anything. But now he had to take the leaving off of seven lever boys into more serious consideration. Ungulen had confirmed in his social way that the missing boys had not left any kind of sentimental trace or reason for their sudden disappearance. So, Goren’s calculations had to be adjusted. Seven lever boys, at a full month’s wages apiece, this strongly indicated that Lorelei had major cash on hand to coax employees away from their duties. The more Goren calculated, the more certain he felt that poaching was afoot.

eyelets in payroll

Goren Hargus cinched his pants up further, constricting his artichoke thighs. On tip toe, he numbered among the skittering creatures — most of them crabs — down by the lake shore.

“Quit yer tight ropin’!” Ungulen threw his head back and brayed with laughter at Goren’s fear of the ooze and general wetness. All around them there was a fleeing pasture of tiny claws. Muck crabs.

“Buckets for bread you said,” Ungulen chided. “It was your idea in the first place to restock the mess from the land.”

“Land, precisely.” Goren complained. “I don’t like getting my slippers wet.”

“Then don’t wear your pussing slippers!” Ungulen rattled his bucket at Goren, alighting droplets of murky, unctuous water onto the man’s face. Goren whipped out a ready handkerchief and cleared them away.

“I don’t want to muddy my leathers either.” Goren sighed, “You’re right though.” He took his slippers off and set them aside. He finger-tucked his pant legs in and over themselves to keep them aloft. Then he made his way barefoot through the slime and chased a few crabs around. He pincered one or two into his bucket.

“Ungulen,” Goren said presently. “There’s a matter I’ve been meaning to discuss with you.”

“What’s that.”

“I was reconciling payroll last Sunday to see if there were any opportunities for forestallment.” Finding opportunities for forestallment was one of Goren’s favorite things about reconciling payroll. “But I noticed something peculiar. More than half a dozen of the lever boys have dipped out as recently as last month. Three alone since I last did the totalling.”

Ungulen shrugged. The shift employ were always running off. Working for a circus wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

“I know. I know. At first I thought they were probably just waywards too. But usually when a lad’s about to duck, he tries to collect his wages early. It’s all pleadings ‘Mr. Hargus this and Mr. Hargus that’ for their train tickets home or one last rose for Dahlia. That sort of thing.”

“And none’s collected?”

“None. Not a one. And where’s the sense in absconding if you don’t make a grab for the church funds?”

Ungulen’s ears twitched. That was peculiar. “So what’s yer theory?”

“Well my first idea was perhaps they’re all traveling through the woods together. Some kind of ritualized hubris. You know how the midranged ones can get when they’re spoiling for dancer crush. But then I looked at the boys who were missing. They didn’t really fit together companion like. All disparate, you know?”

Ungulen moved towards understanding. “Popular or unpopular?”

“Un. Very unpopular.” Goren paused. “And no one’s said anything to you about them? I thought maybe you’d have a version of this through the social vines.”

“No,” said Ungulen, straightening himself to his full height. He fixed Goren with the stern attention of a troubled herd animal. The horizontal slits of his pupils burned with millenia’s worth of experience in identifying predators.

Ungulen asked, “Mr. Hargus, what do you think of the doctor lately?”

Goren was momentarily thrown by this apparent change in topic. Then his mental abacus adjusted.

“I’m not sure I like him,” was the accountant’s reply.

the i love you i hate you machine (part 2)

Herr Doktor Sinvarius Lorelei could not control his erection. It nearly punctured a hole through his slacks. Lorelei knew he was working on his magnum opus. But, what’s more, he knew this was only the first of many opuses to come. The Hasse-Liebe Reverse Induction Contabulator was his first great work. Commissioned by a Baron no less. And its manifestation would set him free.

The puppetress had gone back down to her circus kin. At least for the time being. This was just as well. He’d grown tired of her, skulking around, nodding off on the floor, and demanding greater and greater dosages of hormonal injections. Still, he knew he’d need her again in short order. What a find she was. The repeat experiments with her reusable body had been a glorious boon to his work. He had found exciting new techniques through the application of her favorite moods. His observations of her had also answered many lingering questions that had persisted in the margins of his research. Marrionetta was the ultimate test subject for his work concerning the chemical compounds dictating emotionality. His lips twisted into an ugly smile. It made him laugh to think that such an ignorant vagabond like her should be so integral to the final stages of the Hasse-Liebe Reverse Induction Contabulator. She would never know, of course. And even if she did, how could she possibly appreciate her little role in history? Genius he thought to himself, is the ability to transform that which is inconsequential or even vulgar into a work of art. He marveled at how he always seemed to find exactly what he needed exactly when he needed it. He could only conclude that he was a great creator blessed by the Great Creator himself.

Once this machine was completed he would be flush with capital and state protections. No more circuses. No many stiflingly hot squats in the tropics. No more tinned meats and sour grain. The Baron had made these assurances and even though Sinvarius never trusted anyone farther than he could stick his knife through them, the prospectus seemed certain in this particular case and for this particular machine. Politicians the world over would pay handsomely for a device that transforms hate to love and back again. It was the ultimate tool of social control. And he would be a godlike figure, the only one capable of deploying the thing and improving upon it. They’d bring him tubs full of bodies: human, animal, insectoid, whatever he liked. He’d never have to dig another grave or abandon another laboratory midstream ever again. A life of grand experimentation and luxurious accomodation awaited him just on the other side of this swiftly approaching precipice.

Now all he needed to procure were the underripe hearts of 11 happy children. None of the lever boys would do. They were, as a rule, far too old and far too orphaned to have the delicate tissues required to make his sublime vision into a pumping, cranking reality.

the i love you i hate you machine (part 1)

“Aus hass, liebe,” the Baron intoned quietly, stroking a finger over the face of the woman in the daguerreotype. It was his daughter. His frequent worship of her picture had blurred her face away. He regretted doing this but was unable to stop himself. He had not seen or heard from her in many long years.

The Baron tucked his body further into his massive cape. The room was cold. He jangled softly with dominating heirlooms, unable to separate his personhood from his statehead, even this late into the evening. The room was saturated in candlelight and infused with the lingering odor of roasted game.

He set his daughter’s picture back down into its shrine on his imperious receiving table. He turned his attention to a stash of letters, all of them from Doctor Sinvarius Lorelei.

The letters ranged in date, spanning a decade. He thumbed through, paging to the one that contained the schematic. It was done up in graphite and in Lorelei’s horrid handwriting. The doctor’s penmanship was absolutely diseased, especially when he was excited about anything. The man was too enamored of his art form. It made the Baron queasy to think of the small examples he had seen over the years. Fascinating yes, but there is something phantom, folkloric and fearful about watching the slender arm of a dead young lady suddenly spring to life and gesture submissively to her creator. He still wondered sometimes who that arm had belonged to. He never did find out.

He had met Lorelei that spring at a gala. He was one of the soon to be graduates of the imperial university. The student body of the medical school had several annual occasions to rub shoulders with the nobler blood of the empire. It made for good conversation, connections, and occasionally fruitful business partnerships. Many good examples were available for citation. The hospitals, research groups, private miracles of personal doctoring. On the whole it was a societal good.

But the Baron did not fool himself. He knew his patronage of Lorelei was a sin. One that incurred itself over and over again, with every bucket of currency sent out across all four corners of the planet. Each and every crime of mutilation Lorelei might commit abroad was, certainly, on the Baron’s conscious. He had considered many times what would happen if he simply stopped sending Lorelei the money. It wouldn’t absolve him exactly but it would help. However, in that scenario, the Baron would never see the end result of this project he himself had commissioned. Furthermore, it’s not as if Lorelei would or could ever stop his violent craftsmanship, patronage or no patronage. More likely, the doctor would simply go and entrance some other benefactor. In fact, maybe he already had. The Baron laughed wryly to himself. If anyone could serve two masters, it was Sinvarius alright.

He turned his attention back to the frenetically conceived letter. Lorelei had sent it nearly a year ago. It was from somewhere in the tropics. The machine’s design was in a more finished state than the previous installments. But it didn’t mean anything to the Baron. He had no formal education in the sciences. He was bred to be a leader and, as such, had no use for technical knowledge. This would all be delegated to those who served him. So Lorelei’s excited diagramming was for the doctor’s thrill alone. The only thing the Baron could really distinguish was that the machine was slowly becoming a reality. The I love you I hate you machine the Baron thought to himself, aware of its sing song and childish nature. That is how he conceived of the awful thing. He knew once he had the prototype in hand, he would be able to recoup many times what he had spent on it. Those warlike brutes up in the mountain states would kowtow to his small dominion, despite their economic and military superiority. The machine would secure his lineage and protect his people for centuries. But that was not its foremost purpose. The Baron had one idea in his mind. To recapture his daughter’s affection and maybe — just maybe — to see his grandson again.

Woozies!

Marrionetta woke up in a daze but couldn’t get her bearings. Night had fallen. For a few head turning moments, she couldn’t discern anything through impenetrable black. The sensation made her feel like the billiards of her eyes were rolling weighty around in her head. She had to stop moving and find a point. A star.

Once her center of gravity returned she made a fuller assessment of where she was. Woozies! She thought I must have dropped off right velvetine!

She rose from the ground and brushed dirt off herself. So much for the lavender bath. Crumble and clod clung to her green dress. She felt out some leaves in her hair. She was hungry and her stomach panged. The pang grew larger and seemed to spread throughout her body. She realized that everything ached. Surprising herself, she vomited a babyish amount of stomach fluid onto the ground. She couldn’t see it but it was green, of course. Chlorophyll.

Sick she worried. She always worried when she was sick. A loner’s instinct. Her dressing room, a faithful retreat, was only a few miles away but the distance opened up in her mind like the channel itself.

“Ungulen?” she cried out feebly. The black woods rustled back at her. Then she felt like an imbecile and stamped her foot. The show of force put her off balance and she nearly fell over.

Just like the quiet years she thought. The quiet years were her childhood. Abandoned and orphaned in the woods for an unknowable number of years and seasons. No one to talk to, everything to fear, it was the origin of her acrobatic self-tutelage. A natural and wild apprenticeship totally devoid of self-conscious feeling. In her well furnished adulthood, she had tried to count it all out. To try and figure how many years it must have been. Seven hard winters stood out meaningfully but she couldn’t be sure if she was collapsing a few together, like braiding fingers.

She took a long, impatient breath and prepared herself for the long, long journey home in the dark.

white lace

Rustia’s thighs revved faster and faster like a combustion engine, slamming and pulling up the pedals of her unicycle like they were natural extensions of her feet. Her and Mingey peeled through the thick forestry of Herder Woods along a trail that they themselves had carved through routine exertion.

Mingey scurried along Rustia’s head, back and shoulders like a slender homunculus. She wrapped her legs around Rustia’s neck, hanging down the posterior of the unicycle. Hanging down, she fingered at a cat’s cradle of string which was attached to a weighted system of gears. It was a small contraption that Rustia had designed to augment the power of her physicality with some mechanical advantage.

“Grade!” Rustia commanded. Mingey, extensively trained in the call and response of operating the unicycle, unloosed a dense weight pack. The counterweight gave Rustia a strong vertical off which to hurtle them up the steep grade of a nameless mountain.

Rustia growled like a bear, sweating excitedly as she drove their winged ascent. Presently, she reached the precipice. Their stomachs dropped as they went over the bumpy top and back down the edge again.

“Eeeeeeeiiuyyiiii!” Mingey thrilled.

“Spin down!” Rustia barked and Mingey promptly switched out the weights for the pedal lock. The unicycle’s gear fixed. The wheel spun faster and faster, nearly out of control. Rustia stuck her legs out like balancing antennae. Mingey bobbed and dipped to keep them straightened out.

They screeched down the mountain face, mounting speed like a runaway train. The treading on the wheel started to smoke. They approached the deep ravine at the bottom of the mountain. Faster and faster. Closer and closer Just upon it now! Mingey screamed in terror and covered her eyes as they shot out over the edge.

“Pull!” Rustia roared. Mingey pulled out Marrionetta’s parasol. It was expensive and delicate, covered with white lace and accented with big red roses crafted from silk. They had stolen it from her room when they had noticed her door was broken in.

The parasol popped open. They caught in an abrupt wind tunnel of reverse thrust. After a turbulent ride through negative space, they sailed through the air, laughing and shrieking in delight.

“You see that, Minge!” Rustia gloated, clutching the unicycle tightly in her legs, “I told you it’d work!”

Augromme dreams of jam

Augromme doesn’t think in words but if he did the phrase MAGIC BLANKET would be the reverberating mantra for that particular day. A tiny human, not the bucket bringer — he was much bigger–, had brought him a magic blanket full of sweet, sweet jellies.

He burrowed through all of them in one sitting. Apricot. Blueberry. Raspberry. Peach. A bouquet of colors swam resplendent in his mind. When each jar was thoroughly worked over, he belched a great elephant’s belch. It was rancid with zombie humours and sweet like sugary pickles from the continent. The birds overarching in his thermal column squawked with mania in the odorous plume. One nearly swooned directly into a tree.

Augromme picked up the empty jars with curiosity. He tossed one. It thumped to the ground and then thumped again off a smaller arc. Then it rolled around in the grass and remained still. Augromme reared up, delighted with the jar. He threw a second one. This one didn’t thump. It hit a large stone and broke into a dozen pieces. He waited for something else to happen. Then he forgot about the jars and looked up at the sky.

Violet’s face smoldered in his consciousness. The memory of her small frame and how she conveyed both strength and friendliness. Inside, a sensation emerged for her. It wasn’t a name exactly. More like an emotional designation that demarcated her individuality in the green nebula of his rotten brains. Roughly translating from the private sentiments held by a demented elephant to the Queen’s Standard English, Violet had become Jellybird.

the bridge

Violet made her way to the pasturelands with her rucksack. Instead of her ballet slippers, this time she’d come prepared with cleated boots. One of her dancer friends with a penchant for sport had loaned them to her. If she needed to make a quick get away, she’d be more prepared this time.

She spied Augromme long before he noticed her. He seemed harmless enough in this context. He was walking in slow circles, snuffling at the grass and occasionally lifting his tremendous head skyward to look at the birds. Birds were always attracted to his stewy smells.

She evaluated the brute for a long time. The elephant show needed a real bang next time. The problem was mostly determining if Augromme could be trained or not. She knew he was erratic and hostile but so was Marrionetta and she was the star. Violet had seen Augromme be sweet with the other elephants and they with him. She had seen him tortured by his nightmares, appearing to cry out helplessly about some imagined or timespun injury. She had seen him frolicking in the fields and he had also once attacked her. It was a definite risk to try and include him in the show. That was probably why she hadn’t mentioned the idea to Ungulen who almost certainly would have rejected it.

She also knew how much the poor animal ticketed for when they put him in the box. It was a lot. So the impetus to box him out twice a year would never diminish as long as people like Goren Hargus controlled the purse strings. All day in that tiny enclosure, becoming angry and frustrated, kicking and hissing for his freedom. What if he had hidden talents that could be harnessed? He wouldn’t have to be crammed in the enclosure anymore just to be gawked at for an undignified stretch of hours. Besides, she could really strut something majestic in her next showcase if she pulled this off.

She unpocketed a small woodwind, something crude another circus worker had made and passed around communal. She struck a long, pleasant D note down low on the pipe. Augromme noticed and turned towards the sound. When he noticed she was a person and not a bird, he began a steady trot towards her.

The trot started building and was threatening to become a stampede of one. Violet put the instrument away and took a commanding posture like she had seen Ungulen do. She thrust out her chest and extended a palm-faced arm. “Hold it,” she said.

Augromme responded. He slowed his advance. Then he sat down like a tremendous dog.

“Okay,” said Violet. She pulled out the instrument again and fingered a pleasant major chord in B. Augromme stood up again and started waggling around, snorting and billowing his ears. She rummaged in the rucksack and handed over a large jar of jam.

Augromme immediately scarfed up the jam with his trunk. She played the chord again, still low on the register. She didn’t want to spook him with anything too high and shrill. His trunk piqued up. More? his tiny black eye seemed to inquire. She pulled out another jar which he put away as well.

She played a new chord, something upbeat. To her surprise, Augromme did an intricate series of dance steps. It was sloppy and out of rhythm but she recognized it immediately. It was the bridge of the choreography she had taught the other elephants for the showcase. He had been paying attention after all.

“Interesting,” she said to him. He puffed himself a few times. But then, in a fluid strike, he stole the rucksack and galloped away.

“Hey!” But she didn’t chase him. She’d get another sack and come back tomorrow.

woods

Marrionetta slicked away the grime and the ash. Her lavender oil made her feel calm and she toweled off. She checked the mirror again in her dressing room. She looked splintered and harried but clean at least. She put on her clogs and a green dress. She still couldn’t find her parasol.

If this had been the past, she would have raged through the dormitories of the subterranean circus rooms until she found somebody who knew what had happened to the parasol. She felt certain the it had been stolen as it was very beautiful and, as she had noticed earlier, her door had been broken in at some point. But she was too tired to become angry. She almost thought she might cry again. Did the circus folk really hate her that much? That they would steal from her? Instead of bowing to self pity, she abruptly hurried herself out the door and away from the circus property, snapping and creaking the whole way. 

The walk to the woods was more challenging than she remembered. She felt winded as she approached the tree line. Her physicality was so diminished. The disuse of her energies was only the beginning though. Being taken apart and put back together over a dozen times was an exertion she had never known before. And the steady ebb of her endocrine implants was turning into a very strong desire to re-up. She insisted to herself that she could go longer though. She didn’t need Lorelei. She didn’t need these ungrateful circus chesires. She’d struck it out on her own for centuries before any of them. She had beat back every villain and torn down countless shimsham walls that stood between her and hot plates of oily, garlicky pâtes.

She picked her way through the humid woods. There were no frogs today. She wondered if Lorelei hadn’t eaten them all. When she arrived at her favorite grove of trees, she sat down and caught her breath on a log. It occurred to her — not for the first time — that the log might be a distant cousin of hers. She couldn’t actually tell trees apart. This always made her feel a little ashamed. She put the thought of arboreal roots out of her mind. 

Just a quick jump and I’m up she thought. She readied herself to applique across the trees branches, to suspend herself in midair for some mid afternoon acrobatics. Just her and the trees. Just like always. 

Instead, Marrionetta slowly slid sideways and onto the ground. She fell into an exhausted slumber. 

homesick

Marrionetta could feel the drain. The endocrine infusions Doctor Lorelei had traced her with were emptying of their petit vitalities and her overall mood sagged with them.

Upon returning to her dressing room down in the basement of the big top, Marrionetta took notice that her door had been busted off its hinges at least once while she was away. The door had been fixed. She could tell by the shiny new hinges. Ungulen must have come looking for her before he found her up at The Emerald House.

She entered her room with the intention of settling in immediately and getting back to dancing. Instead though, she slumped onto a plush sette and did not get up for a long while.

It was the morning after the circus mob had demanded her return to performing. It made her feel stitched. One the one hand, it was interesting to see just how essential she was to the rooming and boarding of hundreds of other individuals who, by all accounts, hated her. On the other hand, what pigratting business was it of theirs what she did with her time? Perhaps if they all took the care and patience to perfect their own excellence, the whole operation wouldn’t be so entirely reliant upon her.

Moaning, she picked up her head and layed it back down on the pillows in a new angle. It smelled a bit musty. She wanted to feel that this sette was far more comfortable and superior to sleeping on the floor of The Emerald House or crouching inside of the cold, angular recess of the fireplace. But she couldn’t pretend. Those harsher accomodations were paired with the rush of unending, scientifically modulated joy that the doctor had infused her with over and over again. Here, in her proper, familiar home she felt nauseated and exhausted. Her whole body was fatigued and her thoughts wrapped tighter and tighter around bad memories both from her earliest times in Finland and most recently up with the doctor. The future did not seem terribly bright either. She knew that in a few days time a rancid, choking suppression would overtake her as the nodes and bobules she’d been surfeited with all ran out of juice simultaneously.

Instinctively, she began crying.

Presently, though she felt it was time to do something else. She wiped her eyes in an accusatory fashion against herself. She needed to get into the woods. She found her clogs but could not locate her parasol. That’s when she finally caught herself in the mirror of her vanity. It wasn’t good. No good at all. She needed an oil bath.

different’s always a flash

Violet wrung her hands instead of touching her food. “If I had done better with the elephants, Marrionetta could have…she would be…well.” Her face clouded.

Ungulen shook his head at her. “Netta’s her own foisted knot. Don’t hurl yourself in a pit on her account.” He nibbled on boiled, taupe leftovers.

“Well I failed.” Violet crossed her arms definitively. “The elephant show was a bust. I can’t see why you haven’t put me back on the chorus line yet.”

Ungulen shrugged. “That’ll be Drutherstone’s call whenever he gets back. For now, the elephant show is probably as good as it ever was. May’s be better. Certainly different. Different’s always a flash.” Ungulen drained an entire carafe of table coffee. Then he continued, “Why don’t you keep working on it. See what else you can muster?”

Violet flattened out, depressed. “It was bad, wasn’t it? The worst elephant show anyone’s ever seen.”

“I couldn’t say that with a straight face. It’s was just regular like. I know. Let’s compare with our resident expert on all things status quo.”

“No,” said Violet, cramming her face into the abyss of her hands.

“Hargus!” Ungulen boomed.

Hargus jiggled over. “Hmm?”

“Is it your keen estimation, that Violet’s most recent showcase with the elephants was the worst elephant show we’ve ever had?”

The abacus of Goren’s mind skittered around for a few seconds. “No,” he said without emotion. “Why?”

“She says it was crumblier than stale shortbread.”

“No,” said Goren. “Not that bad. Just kind of regular. We’re still in the black, albeit with a few set backs. Don’t know why everyone treating it like such a crisis.”

“There, see?” said Ungulen trying to assure the wilting Violet. “Just keep working on it.”

“Yes,” Goren agreed, “Just do something better next time. What if you tried making it very unique and exciting. Have you tried thinking about it that way?”

Violet raised her eyes to the ceiling and goosed a tremendous smile. She snapped her shoulders square and rose from her breakfast seat.

“Thank you,” she said mechanically. She left the mess. Goren and Ungulen looked at each other for a moment.

Goren rolled his eyes, “Dancers.” He nabbed Violet’s abandoned pastry and rolled himself away.

habeas corpus

Rustia and Mingey arrived far ahead of the rest of the mob. Never ones to miss an opportunity to flaunt their freakish athleticism, Rustia belted the unicycle hard and cast circles around the entire perimeter of The Emerald House. Mingey screamed at the top of her lungs like a haunt of the heath. She smacked the windows panes taunting, “Miss Mary! Miss Mary! Miss Mary!”

As the sisters swung by on a second tour, Mingey kicked the front door and — to their absolute delight — the front door fell completely off its hinges. Ungulen had never sent anybody up to repair it after kicking in down himself a few days earlier.

Inside, Lorelei dropped a candle directly onto his foot. “VLATCH!”

The mob was gathering now in the front yard of The Emerald House. Ungulen strode up, panting. Annoyed with the entire situation, he stuck out his long, bony leg and tripped Rustia and Mingey as they rushed past. Rustia flew off and impacted with the ground like a meteor. Mingey skidded a few dozen yards away and immediately began crying. Rustia, rushed over to her sister and protectively covered her up. They huddled and glared at Ungulen.

But the mob had already taken up the sisters’ battle cry. “Come out, Miss Mary!” they screeched. “Where’s your honest day’s work yesterday!” They threw rocks and dirt clods at the house. Ooze-like mud welted and dripped down the sides of the house. Ungulen was unable to control them.

Presently, Lorelei came out of the front entrance. He was dressed in a silk night robe and he held Marrionetta around the waist in a fashion that almost appeared charming. The shock of his calm silenced the mob.

Marrionetta was aware that she was in the serpent’s grip. He was guiding her out of the house, flaunting her before the angry eyes of her circus brethren who had been chanting her name in a way she didn’t like at all. This night had Visigoth written all over it.

Marrionetta couldn’t help but physically experience Lorelei in their mutual embrace. Their flanks were not quite touching but she could feel his mood change under the slip of the silk robe. He was perfectly at ease, she realized. It confused her. There they were, holding together like perfect housemates in front of a group of 200 who were already throwing rocks. And yet, Lorelei projected nothing but a deep and alarming confidence. Was he in his element? How many angry mobs had he encountered before?

“She’s right here,” Doctor Lorelei said to the circusfolk. “Safe and sound. Prim and proper. How do you feel, Netty? Good tonight?”

Marrionetta swayed with the billowing nighttime air. There was an extended pause.

“Netty?” Lorelei prompted.

Somewhere in the crowd, Violet started softly crying and didn’t know why.

“I will return to work in the morning,” Marrionetta declared and then she drifted back inside of the house. Lorelei bowed to everyone and followed in after her, propping up the front door behind him.

The mob suddenly felt very self-conscious. They each bowed their heads and made their excuses. Just what had they thought was going to happen tonight? People avoided each others’ eyes as they trudged back down the hill. Ungulen found his way to Rustia and Mingey who were still huddled on the ground. Ungulen offered Rustia and hand but she batted him away.

Ungulen made his descent just as Goren was finally arriving to the scene of events.

“What happened?” Goren asked.

Ungulen shuffled his head and snorted forcefully. “Not a dreckerd thing.”

announcements

Ungulen held up an enormous hand to quiet the din. But it was no use. None of the circusfolk would be soothed tonight.

Nearly all 200 employees of the circus were gathered in the big top for a general meeting. They all sat in the warped wooden benches. Goren Hargus dabbed his forehead with a handkerchief at regular intervals, gauging the mood on a moment to moment basis. The meeting was not going according to plan.

“What d’ya mean no cigarettes in the budget!” one of the jugglers yelled and hurled his most recently emptied box of cigarettes at Ungulen. A screed of workers jostled to their feet in agreement “Whot kinda circus is this anyway!”

“There’s been a bit of trouble,” Ungulen continued, “with lamping up the big top tent. It’s pricey and it’s longstanding and it’s got to get done. Now, there was a bit of an incident with a major part–“

“You broke it! I saw yous!” A lever boy screamed, excited that he had something to add. A general sarcastic murmur overtook the entire tent.

“Alright, yes. We broke it. But blame ain’t got two cents in its teeth. We’re working with the monies we’ve got.”

One of the Keurmite brothers — the eldest — suddenly ripped off his head and threw it at Ungulen. On its soaring arc, the head spat at Ungulen and got him squarely in the eye during mid flight. Everyone laughed. Even the head laughed, after it bounced painfully off of a bench and onto the floor.

“It’s her fault! Miss elephants!” Rustia jabbed an enormous finger in Violet’s direction. “If she’d of made a good elephant show, there’d be more money for everyone!” Violet shrank into her seat.

“Enough!” Ungulen screamed with all his goatly powers. Most everyone stuffed up their ears. He was like an alarm bell.

“Now we’re going to move up the major so everyone’s pulling doubles this month,” Ungulen declared.

Now the shift employ were really mad. People started overturning benches. They threw more things at Ungulen besides just their cigarette boxes and their heads.

“Marrionetta will return shortly and–” but Ungulen never got to finish this statement because Mingey hopped up on top of her sister’s shoulders and started chattering.

“That’s right! Where is Marrionetta, anyway! On vacation up with mister doctor in The Emerald House while the rest of us toil away for our evening bread! Well I’ll not take it lying down any longer! Rustia and I are going up to knock some sense into that horrid old witch and drag her back down the hill if we have to!”

And with that, Rustia rose and reunited herself with her unicycle, shouldering Mingey all the way. They took off screaming and gesturing towards the The Emerald House. The big top emptied itself as nearly all of the circusfolk followed the sisters up the hill on their warpath. Ungulen made a run for it to try and head off some of the drama. Goren Hargus trudged up the rear, running totals in his mind.

major malfunction

Ungulen’s long, crazy fingers bid the machinery forward. “Easy does it,” he said to no one and everyone at the same time. There were three lever boys up in the big top’s catwalk awaiting instructions. Another was down on the ground with a long rod, helping to support and balance a large object that all of them were working with. Ossip jostled a wheelbarrow which supported a homespun crane that he and Ungulen had designed together. Ossip unhooked the crane’s primary latch. Immediately, the filament reel began unspooling. Ossip’s sinewy arms strained against the pull of the metal threading as it zipped off the line.

At the terminus of this discombobulated machine was a giant light fixture. It was a spotlight that ran on electricity. Cool light instead of the hot oil and mirror combination that the circus had been working with for decades. The spotlight swang malevolently at the end of the line. Ungulen dipped back to give the thing its berth.

“Alright,” he continued to nobody and everybody. “Up as gently as you please, lads.” Ungulen lifted his fingers in feathery waves as Ossip steered the thing skyward. The boy with the pole kept the fixture pointed keenly so it was easier for those in the rafters to receive it.

“I was thinking,” piped up Ossip, “of taking me personal day tomorrow?”

“What?” said Ungulen, gesturing for the fixture to be heightened into the catwalk.

“You said,” Ossip reminded him, “I’s could take a little holiday for meself. On account of the doctor.”

Ungulen paused. His hands dropped. “The doctor?”

But the die had already been cast. All those present misinterpreted Ungulen’s lowering hands as a command regarding the spotlight. Even more unfortunately, each had his own separate bad interpretation of the gesture. The lever boys in the catwalk smacked into each other. The pole holder countermanded his pole into an opposite orientation, knocking over several buckets of sand. But, crucially, it was Ossip who misunderstood most egregiously. He released the crane’s line. The crank spun hotly out of control. The spotlight compacted itself through gravity and surged directly into the ground where it broke into several large, irreparable pieces.

a working nod

Violet practically slid off stage in a pool of her own sweat and exertion. The elephantrinas packed in and shuffled out, guided by a duo of lever boys with coaxing sheaves of spinach. The audience was still applauding and a last-act aperitif was sent out to amuse them: Mingey hoola-hooping atop her unicycling sister.

Violet peeled away parts of her costume as she descended into the big top’s basements. Her wild hair was oiled into a pointed angle that composed itself westerly but changed as she combed her anxious fingers through and through again. The air was cooler down here and it felt good on her skin. One of the Keurmite brothers grabbed her shoulder companionably.

“All done!” he cheered her.

She gave him a working nod and kept moving. All done was right. Her showcase had wrapped. Six viewings in all. And she felt rank about it.

As she proceeded further into the basements, nobody seemed to pay her any mind. The lever boys had their switches and pulleys which needing pulling and switching. The other performers were standing around gossiping, smoking, undressing, chatting up the more attractive locals or groping one another. People who had congratulated her on her first performance hardly noticed her on her way out from the last.

The snub compounded itself as she returned to the communal dressing rooms. She, not being a star in any way, was never afforded a private area or space even while she had been leading the showcase. Violet fell into her chair at her prim little station. She threw the fabrics of her headpiece down and, with a single elegant hand, she shredded the front buttons of her tunic.

A few of the other dancing girls were hooting and applying lipstick onto the face of a nascent acrobat who had somehow found his way into the dressing rooms. One of the hooting girls noticed Violet.

“The tap’s iced tonight if you want some beer,” the girl offered.

That was it. That was the last straw. The show had been shit, Violet felt. Everyone seemed to be saying it without saying it. She bent her head low. She culled her fingers around her sweated, throbbing head. She wanted to scream.

But instead of losing what little cool she had, she composed herself. She rose from the chair and smiled at the other hooting dancers. They smiled back, unwitting and unconcerned by any of Violet’s behavior.

She drank one cold beer after the next that night. Her blood cooled. Her hair dried. Then she tipped over the line of friendly non-sobriety into frenzied drunkenness. In the early hours of the morning, she laboriously stupored back to her cot in the dancers’ barracks. It was a dreamy prelude to a scalding hangover.

a month and a day

Ungulen bent himself through the small doorway and loomed inside the front rooms of The Emerald House.

“What unlawful bloodsport have you enacted on my property?!” screamed Lorelei. He was seated at his desk, clawing magnetized metal strips together, but rose instantaneously and sputtered around Ungulen in anger.

Lorelei gestured forcefully at the felled door. “Pick it up! Pick it up!” He jabbed his fingers at all relevant aspects: the door, the frame, Ungulen, and more.

Ungulen sloped past Lorelei in his starting fits. He approached Marrionetta. Or rather, he approached the fireplace where Marrionetta was crouching and gently rocking herself.

“Netta?” Ungulen sank lowly into his knees in order to see her face. She was covered head to toe in ash. It was in her hair as well. “Netta, you alright there?”

Marrionetta, for the first time days, responded to the sound of her own name. She squinted at Ungulen, recognizing him.

“Hmmm?” was all she said. It came out almost songlike, her mind was so occluded.

“Things seem a bit sideways around here.” Ungulen paused but Marrionetta didn’t say anything. “Have you just been sittin’ up here for a month a day?” He asked. Her face twitched. He could see that she wasn’t sure. Ungulen extended a hand and instinctively Marrionetta reached out for him too. Once attached though, he couldn’t persuade her to crawl out. She remained planted in the fireplace, holding onto him for no discernible reason.

“She’s perfectly alright.” Lorelei spat. “Have one of your toddlers sent up here immediately to fix my door.”

Ungulen, still holding Marrionetta’s hand, peered around The Emerald House very carefully. It was quite filthy. The doctor had all manner of printed material hung up on the walls. Something about this didn’t feel right in Ungulen’s multi-chambered stomach. Not waiting for an explanation, Ungulen cast the fireplace’s grate aside and dragged Marrionetta out of the fireplace and picked her up like a sack.

“Where are you taking her?”

“She’s a main attraction of this entertainment establishment and she’s needed at rehearsal. She can come back here on her own time.”

“No!” rasped Marrionetta, suddenly alive and striking like a viper. “Put me down!”

Her strength was feeble but their friendship demanded that he release her. Ungulen stooped her back on her feet. She wobbled around.

“I’ll come down,” she seethed, wiping drool off her face. “When I’m good and ready.”

Ungulen frowned at her. He threw a menacing look at Lorelei which was returned in kind.

“We’ve already had a showcase,” Ungulen addressed himself to his wilted colleague. “We need a major before the rains start.”

Marrionetta knew what this meant. Money was tight. If she didn’t perform, the coffers would go dry, probably even overnight. If the coffers went dry….well. The entire circus might disperse in the pioneering style of Ernt Rauchbaum. She knew, deep in her heart, that she would be fine if this happened. She could always stay here with the crooked doctor or, worst case scenario, go back to dancing in city traps. But as she looked at Ungulen she knew that it would be a wicked, evil blow to Drutherstone after all he’d worked to build and keep here. He wasn’t even here to prevent it. She felt ambivalent.

Ungulen arched an tufted eyebrow at her and made his way slowly back down the hill.

all your French crackers

Ungulen swang his knotted knees up the hill. He bristled slightly with annoyance, his thick body fuzz prickling up all over. One of his hooves slicked just a midge in the newly pupating grass. The ooze was beginning to return. Ungulen cursed softly, reflexively, as he knee narrowly escaped a bad cricking.

Of course Marrionetta had been back up in The Emerald House this whole time. It was close to idiotic that this had not occurred to him before. Among all dancers, among all bowed-up, precocious, fussy misses, Marrionetta always sat exactly where she wanted to and when she wanted. The puss.

So while Ungulen had been making time when he could to try and locate her, he hadn’t quite put it together that she was back in her old haunt. It wasn’t until one of the lever boys mentioned her in passing. She had been seen by a few up with “mister doctor.” Much of the staff had all taken to calling that noosepick by that double moniker out of respect. Still, Ungulen didn’t care for him. The drawn up straight. With his turned up nose, his richly slight build. He always seemed to be roiling, just below the surface. About to punch somebody’s lights out thought Ungulen, except he’s a bit of a priss.

Ungulen pounded on the front door of The Emerald House. “Netta? Answer the door.”

Ungulen’s pointy ear flicked. He could detect movement within the domicile. But, after nearly a full minute of patiently waiting, no one answered.

“Netta, I know you’re in there.” He pounded again for emphasis. “And what’s more, we’ve eaten all your French crackers. There’s none left, I tell ya. Now open the door or I’ll start in on your chocolates. I know where’s you got them holed up in the tent.”

Still, no one answered.

Now, it’s worth noting at this point that Ungulen is a very large creature. He is part man, part goat, but all parts workaday groundskeeper. He may never win any chess games but he knows a thing or two about running shifts at a circus. Most wouldn’t perceive this fact but a large part of circus work is being interested in the management of people. And Ungulen, believe it or not, is a very studious people goat-person. So when Ungulen’s had it up to his eyeballs with somebody, things have gone very far indeed.

Willing not to be kept standing on the threshold of The Emerald House, Ungulen felled the door inward with a single punch of his hoof.

What exactly IS The Emerald House?

Drutherstone’s Circus is a legal entity comprising four acres of hilly grasslands that — before it was cleared — was part of a thick, deciduous forest. Further north, the forest is called Herder Wood though it’s difficult to say where the boundary is between the wilderness parts, the village’s complement, and that which spills over into the circus’s backyard. From a topographical perspective, the circus is always going down hill. The highest point is the hill, upon which The Emerald House sits like a star on a solstice tree. From there, the circus slopes down into a valley which contains the crab infested lake. The lake, in turn, contains the lagoon which is always filling up with ooze.

The circus also comprises eleven circus rides (none of them recently inspected), a mess hall, three separate animal enclosures, and over 200 laboring bodies and their necessary barracks and facilities. Many of these workers tend to double up on themselves, performing both their circus tricks and odd jobs, trading their shifts and cigarettes away in exchange for gambling debts and booze. There’s a veritable shadow economy of shift hours and gambling dues, the former usually keeping at pace with the latter in terms of raw, measurable value. Rustia tends to be a controlling hub of these commodities and services. Goren Hargus also controls a substantial share though he would argue, of course, that his is a stabilizing presence and wholly necessary to peaceful operation of the circus’s financial underpinnings.

In terms of the circus’s other material assets, there is — of course — the big top and its attendant basements and galleries. The subterranean elements of the big top were installed by joint effort between Lindsey Drutherstone and Janus Tewditch when the two of them were still partnered up and running things together. Ungulen was the main foreman on that project and acquitted himself well both in terms of works accomplished and identifying competent outsource for the more complicated tasks. They had just been on the cusp of electrifying the main stage when Janus and Lindsey suddenly exploded into a lovers’ quarrel that overtook the circus like ravenous fire on a windy night. Bridges were — literally and figuratively — burned that day. Many of the circus’s employees took sides. This was one of many incidents that has depleted the circus’s staff in the past few decades.

But one place stands above all of this. Its presence precedes the circus, precedes Drutherstone and Janus. It is not clear if it existed even before the clearing of the land to sell it for a commercial bit of property. This is, of course, The Emerald House.

The Emerald House has been on that hill for as long as anyone can remember but all would be hard pressed to say who was living in it prior to the circus moving into town. The carnies all call it “The Emerald House” on account of the locals who named it that most probably because of the deep, seafoam patina of the glass roof tiles. No one knows why the roof of a building should be tiled in glass but there it was all the same. The interior rooms were once upholstered in mesmerizing hues of greens, teals, and gold trim but that’s all been cleared out over the years as occupant after occupant has taken a souvenir to their next dwelling or abode.

Marrionetta lived in The Emerald House for about a year before Lorelei came to town. She kept it clean, if cluttered. She used to walk on the roof tiles in the middle of the day, the scalding heat would send a thrill up her wooden legs.

Carstleman G. Peddant, a refined gentleman walrus

Carstleman G. Peddant could not, for the life of him, understand what he was doing here. He? Imprisoned by a circus? And one so poorly run at that! And so far inland! The entire thing was a travesty and a disgrace. In all his days as a proud gentleman walrus, he could never have imagined such a thing.

The irony was rich in the imaginings department. Whelped and puppied on the Whatiff peninsula, Carstleman had spent all of his young adult life gazing and sliding through the infinite vortex of life’s possibilities as they bubbled and flowed in the freezing, crystal beauty of the subarctic seas. You see, while it may be unknown to those outside the distinguished livery of sea mammals, most warm blooded aquarians are closely in tune with the willowing whims of the Fates. This is especially true of the podding varieties. It’s not so much that the future is known to them. Instead, all the myriad futures reveal themselves distinctly, like underwater currents which are clear to those that swim them even if they may not be able to fully perceive the eventualities of each.

So it was a right bother to Carstleman that he had, somehow, run afoul of a fisherman’s net and wound up here, imprisoned in a circus shed. Carstleman’s enclosure was an awful double bathtub that had been fused together by the combined handiwork of Ungulen and Ossip. The bathtub itself was fine, a mottled brown porcelain that Carstleman rather liked. It’s only that it was cramped, foreign and not his native oceanic homeland. Still, he felt confident that the correct course of action would simply be to make do until he could get his bearings and escape properly. So he slopped around, trying to pass the time.

Suddenly, Carstleman heard a sound. It was enormous trotters. He could tell immediately the sound of a cousin. The enormous footfalls came towards his little shed. His muzzle tingled as he sensed the great flanks of a fellow beast on the other side of the wall. It was Augromme, the zombified elephant. He stank and Carstleman liked it. It reminded him of the carrion piles on Whatiff peninsula.

Augromme began toying with shutters to the shed’s only window. The window was very close to Carstleman’s bathtub. The walrus-gentleman bullied up, fattened his cheeks, and stood his whiskers out to their sturdiest claim.

“Salutations and good morning! Please introduce yourself!” But Augromme did not introduce himself. Instead he faithfully unlatched the window and snaked his trunk inside the shed. Now it was Augromme’s turn to take some fascination in the smell of Carstleman. His trunk’s nozzle wafted around, inhaling deeply. Almost in a swoon, his nostrils succumbed to the elaborate mineral recipe of Carstleman’s stewing bathwater. Augromme thrust his trunk into the water and began drinking.

“Now then, stop that!” Carstleman declared. He batted Augromme furiously with the strong bone of his fin. Augromme yelped and retreated. Then he angled a tusk through the shutters and attempted to stab Carstleman in the face.

Carstleman evaded him and began to bellow and roar. Spittle hurtled out of the walrus’s pink, gaping mouth. Augromme roared and hissed back, arching his trunk and beating his ears on either side of the window. The two males maintained in this fashion for some time. After a fortifying rally, Augromme became either bored or fixated on something beyond the shed and wandered away.

“What a strange fellow,” Carstleman thought to himself, hurling a blanket of oily water onto his belly. “I do hope he comes back.”

a milling production, perhaps

Berthauld Fregt had returned with the cavalry. The local police force, themselves a round up of former bandidos who had come to recognize the benefits of a more formalized enshrine of their talents, had roundly given Fregt a sneerful when he first approached them about a so-called “scientist of gross abuses” in their midst. How they asked over morning cervezas, could such a thing escape their attention?

This particular pueblo was a thriving, rattling place full of change. A rivalrous city was emerging from the desert and travelers, natives, and entrepreneurs from all different walks and feints in life were hurrying around town all day and all night to cull some advantage from the wagonloads of cash, crop, and cinder block that were daily alighting in the front vantage of the old mission. The mission’s Padres wept desperately for their former flocks to return but the sheep were scattering into milling, sewing, teamstering, and planting jobs. As the church frayed, the pueblo spread and exported itself like a dandelion’s float. From these ambitious seeds, stems of iron, wood, and splendour made haste into the endless, desert sky.

It was mostly curiosity that coaxed a small segment of the gendarmes to join Fregt at a blown out collide of mortar structures in an easterly part of the territory. This had probably once been a small village, knee deep in some meaningful agricultural production but had long since been wasted down to a nub. The entire acreage had been white washed by the bearing mein of the mid tropic sun. Wisps of plant life and a few bloated cacti peppered the landscape but otherwise, the only things that earned a shadow were the distant mountains and Fregt’s huddle of buildings that slumped even as they approached. A few of the policemen made mental notes that, pending a root canal of irrigation, this land was probably free for the asking. Hard labor was sold cheap back in town so it was possible that this scratch of land was one ink stamp shy of an orchard’s riches; depending on soil composition, that is. If the soil was poor, then perhaps a milling production instead. There was, afterall, some aspect of a road leading out here. Infrastructure is always worth its weight in padre’s gold.

Approaching the abandoned structure, Fregt pulled back an ancient iron door and lead the roguish constabulary inside a stifling series of chambers. To the constables’ amazement, the entire place was furnished. But not just furnished. Well appointed, in fact. Being constables, they had their hands in an overwhelming majority of items imported and sold within the territory limits. It shocked them that such an amalgam of plush chairs, ornate chests, cabinetry and candles had all managed to escape their taxing attentions. Fregt did not pause in the furnished rooms and ushered them further into an interior chamber.

Here is where the stench overtook them, dried out as it was. In the center of a ransacked room was a huge, cylindrical tank capable of holding at least 100 kilos. It had a funnel at the top and a small chute in the posterior. One of the policeman vomited on the spot. The room was covered in thick, dried blood. It was as if the entire floor had been plastered in acrylic red paint. Not an inch of smooth surface at all. Countless animal hides still attached to their long, striped tails stood in a tremendous pile in the far corner of the room. On the wall, there was a long blueprint that mirrored the machine in the center of the room. The blueprint was crooked, falling down by one corner. The schematic traced out a procedure from an obtuse and unwilling alpha to a ghastly and incomprehensible omega. Putting it mildly the machine was not of godly construction. But nor was it practical. It was a thing of pure artistry, possibly without any real purpose at all.

“It would seem, gentlemen,” Fregt said gloomily, “the doctor found ample use for your city’s stray cats.”