The Demucking Tower

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lagoon vs. The Lake

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

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

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

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

Demucking Day: Dawn

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

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

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

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

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

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

Violet in grey silk

Drutherstone knocked four times with one knuckle.

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

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

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

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

“Do you work here?” he rhetoricized.

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

“I have a task for you.”

“Alright.”

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

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

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

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

“No,” she said at last.

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

“Why?” Violet asked.

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

“Yes.”

“Are you one of the best ones?”

“I think so.”

“Good. And now you are a choreographer.”

“Of elephants.”

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

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

“Alright, the elephants.”

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

Doctor Dactyl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letters to Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is it checks?” Hargus hoped.

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

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

Marrionetta, the unhinged puppetress

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

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

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

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

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

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

pennies fell out

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

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

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

“What is she?”

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

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

“Where does she live? On the grounds?”

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

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

“She’s made with pegs?”

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

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

“Pretty good haul tonight, sir.”

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

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

“Evidently, he’s keen on Marrionetta.”

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

Drutherstone — unamused — agreed wholeheartedly.

his delve, his worship

Dr. Lorelei was growing fatigued and ill. The hard, lopsided bench he was seated upon was being nonsensically rocked and jostled by the other excited patrons. They leapt over and shoved each other, hooting, hollering, masticating spoiled popcorn and generally causing a charged ruckus of enjoying the entertainment in the big top.

Dr. Lorelei tried, once again, to rise from his complimentary seat only to find Drutherstone buzzing him around him, insisting he remain for the final act. “You won’t regret it,” Drutherstone sang before collapsing into a coughing fit and dissipating back into the crowd.

If the previous performances were anything to go by, Lorelei was rather certain he would not enjoy the final act. But he could not think of another place he needed to be. His room in The Emerald House was fully tidied at this point, his specimens had yet to arrive through the post, and there were no other patronable institutions for miles around. Plus, Drutherstone was keeping him flush with the reprehensible mezcal. Lorelei swigged back more of the burning head varnish and started to carefully observe the hands and ligaments of the idiotic circus goers around him. Perhaps he could find a specimen he liked and mutilate them later.

Lorelei was eager to return to his work. The animation of dead flesh was his sore spot, his excitement, his delve, his worship. He missed his recombinated creatures. Each was like his child, unique creations that seem to take on minds of their own once all his hard work and planning had been expended. But each of them, all his unique recombinants, had been stolen from him by his pursuant detractors, the so called “authorities” who were constantly chasing him and interrupting his practice. Though Lorelei had made steady and incredible advancements over the years, he wondered what other heights he might have attained in the artform if he had not needed to constantly evade capture by vanishing and reappearing in places such as Drutherstone’s circus.

His morose reverie was halted by a reedy squeak. The staccato note of a violin. Then a long drag on C minor. The curtain rose patiently this time. Marrionetta stood limp and discoverable in the middle of the stage. Lorelei’s neck straightened.

The violin began to bleat a mind numbing ditty. Marrionetta sprang to life, her strings quivering in the lamplight. Her tautness and her sags achieved a stupefying elegance. She was captivating. Even under the weight of the artless music, or perhaps because of it, her strange locomotion and apparent lack of self-determinism held each and every audience member in the sway of total apprehension.

But for Lorelei, it was more than this. The studious collector of body parts, the animator of expired flesh, the experimenter who danced along the periphery of the soul itself, was not just captivated by her. Not just bound in attention to her every gesture. No. In his breast, a desire began to burn. He wanted to examine every groove and splinter of her minutiae. In the depths of a green, repulsive and idiotic hellscape, he had discovered a muse.

Augromme, the skeletal elephant

The elephant pen was a scabby affair. There were four elephants in all, two sows and two bulls. They mostly kept to themselves in dreary, masticating silence but occasionally they would fight one another, spearing each others’ flanks with their tusks, twisting their long noses in skin-husking, death grips. The instigator was usually Augromme, the undead and partially zombified male.

Ernt Rauchebaum was, ostensibly, the Elephant Keeper at Drutherstone’s circus but he had spent the past 90 years cultivating his opium habit and had recently taken several villainous sabbaticals leaving more than several circus chores unattended. Ungulen, the groundskeeper, usually wound up cleaning and feeding the elephants.

Augromme, the undead elephant, was brainsick. He rarely knew where he was or what he wanted to eat. He stomped with frustration around his small enclosure, unsure of what to do next in any situation. His addled mind — for indeed his brains had begun to deteriorate into something green and gelatinous– fired off indiscriminate orders and ideas that he was never able to bring to forbearance despite his beastly size and determined attitude of elephantdom.

Augromme recalled recently having chased a little girl in circles. It felt good to do that. He wanted to do it again. His tusks hadn’t tasted blood in a few years and he was eager to exact murderous pleasures from somewhere, anywhere. But as his small eyes darted around, all he saw were his three other elephantpanions. He liked them. Sometimes. They were hairy and warm and occasionally he felt like they were a family. Then some bolt of searing mania would strike and he would attack them viciously until Ungulen or another carnie roped him down and poured lavender wax in his ears — never a good feeling and yet, something about it made his nerves relax.

Augromme paced energetically several times and then rolled back down on his haunches, amazed at something in the sky.

valley crabs

“Delicious,” sucked Drutherstone. A heap of membranous shells grew at his elbow. The shells had a catching quality to them, still outfitted with little spines and naturalistic curvatures. It was almost as if the shells found some comfort still being huddled together and were frightened to part ways even as they were periodically swept into the trash.

Ungulen closed his eyes, wrapped his mouth around a claw and slurped. Valley crabs were his absolute favorite and he had spent many solitary hours collecting them off the oozing green lakeshore down in the valley earlier that morning. The mountain of shells in front of his seat at the table was tremendous. A monument to his enjoyment and and an honest day’s work.

Marrionetta stuck out her tongue and gagged for the fifteenth time that night.

“What’s wrong, love?” Ungulen’s lips shimmered. “Not good enough for ye?”

Marrionetta fixed Ungulen with a haughty and sarcastic stare which produced a sound like billiards colliding. “I’ve dined on the finest crustacea on several continents so don’t condescend to me, Ungy.”

Ungy rolled his eyes.

She continued, “I just find it disgusting you could eat these sad little tacks that have done nothing but roll around in groundsmuck all their lives, not to mention whatever skim finds its way out of Drutherstone’s sinuses.”

In response, Ungulen smacked a fat plug of crabmeat out of a tubule. Drutherstone too merely picked his teeth.

Drutherstone, Ungulen, Marrionnetta and Goren Hargus sat around the round table, eating under the swaying silhouette of an oil lamp. Outside the mess hall, night closed in, in its greenish way.

This was a private dinner. All the other employ had been banished both from the discussion and from the intoxicating fumes of boiled slime crabs. A lever boy or two had managed to steal hot specimens from the pot, their fingers singeing and warting up all the way back to their barracks. Otherwise, the party remained undisturbed.

Goren Hargus was the first to conclude his appetite. “So,” he announced. “Shall we review the financials?”

a highly organized and efficient psychopath

It was the morning after Dr. Lorelei had seen the little girl with brown hair being chased by the elephant down in the sinkhole. In the relative comfort of The Emerald House, he rose from his creaking cot, dreary and hungry, fearing the sort of breakfast that would be available in his new abode, the accursed circus.

He rifled through the mania of discarded items around the room. His tunics, his briefcase, a clattering pile of empty bottles — all Drutherstone’s mezcal — paperwork on lost experiments, several of his favorite knives, and numerous pharmaceuticals. Dr. Lorelei knew his own habits well enough. Typically a highly organized and efficient psychopath, Lorelei was sometimes given to bouts of animalistic and explosive rage, especially when change was in the air and drink was in the blood. He made a mental note to tidy things up later. He also knew that soon he would need to reinstate his honed routine of Personal Dispossession. This consisted of self-inflicted pain — in carefully measured intervals — to conjure that sublime and acute state of dissociative thinking. In his dissociated state, he found himself to be as rational and objective as a blade’s edge is gleaming and sharp. An ideal frame of mind for his scientific work.

Outside, he slid carefully down the muck covered grade of the hill. Everything was so humid and greenish, he noticed. The rides were rusted to a blue-green hue, the ubiquitous muck shimmered with verdant, oily swirls. Even the grass seemed the greenest that green could be. It was fecund, wet, and inviting in its own way. A lusty pull that seemed to typify circuses and other impermanent clusters of occultae.

He found the public mess house easily enough. The concomitant blur of both the circus’s staff and its performers were writhing in a mass all around it. Liquor was already flowing freely even though the sun had barely winked out of the teal fog of early day. A vein of barbarism snaked through the familial din. Hard punches and snarls constituted salutations all around. Even the women seemed to be baring too many teeth than could reasonably fit inside their fairer heads. Lorelei did not see Drutherstone anywhere and yet he felt certain that the Clownmaster’s pneumatic discharges were all around them.

A plate was slopped together for the Doctor and he barged back up the hill, completely unaware that vicious Marrionetta had clocked him. Standing aloof, she was thoughtlessly lighting matches and tossing them into the strata of oozing footprints. The orange coals of her eyes burned through the steaming morning sunlight.

Drutherstone’s Mezcal

Dr. Lorelei poured himself a small salut to celebrate the acquisition of The Emerald House. The liquid tasted sweet with anise but there was an alkaline after-choke, probably due to the fact that the rancid alcohol was brewed in a rusted out canister on the grounds of an accursed circus.

Dr. Lorelei now poured heavily from the brown bottle and drank deep draughts of the stuff to achieve either drunkenness or brain damage. Though, arguably, the latter had already been done. Even he knew his experiments represented something insane. But, fortunately, Lorelei did not possess the moral compunction to stop himself from trying.

As he sucked down the dry, disgusting swill, he watched a scene play out beneath his window. In the murky green of evening, a little girl with short brown hair was crying and hurrying along the inner perimeter of a massive, rectangular sinkhole. The sinkhole was nearly as long as a rugby pitch and her small, 10-year old legs could barely carry her through the thick grass, especially as it was wet from the thin, freezing rain.

Dr. Lorelei swiftly recognized that the little girl was in a nightmare. The nightmare had transported her here to Drutherstone’s circus. He wondered what petit triste in her real existence had transmuted her spirit to this idiotic and buffoonish place. He refilled his glass with the burnt mezcal and continued watching her.

She was running as fast as she could which was not very fast at all. She was screaming for help because, behind her, one of the circus’s enormous, skeletal elephants — the one with the dead eyes and zombified skin — was chasing her and chasing her and chasing her and would not stop for it was a massive, undead fury. He thought, if the elephant overtook her, she would probably just wake up in bed. Safe and snuggled in covers lightly soaked in the sweat of her terror. So it would be better then that the elephant should overtake and mash her into the ground. But no. Somehow in her nightmare logic, her fat little legs, wicking this way and that on the waxy grass, carried her just beyond the maniacal elephant’s tusks, trapping her in unending fright for many tours around the sinkhole.

When Dr. Lorelei went to refill his cup again, he noticed that the bottle had changed. Just another quirk of battening down in a whimsical, horror circus. Bottles could change their labels at a moment’s notice. The new, decorative label depicted the small child herself, running amok ahead of the charging elephant, Drutherstone’s Mezcal in curling gold script.

“Nicely done,” thought Lorelei.

Marrionetta in Full Tilt

“Drutherstone, you pathetic wince of a cock!” Marrionetta strained so abruptly and with such force that several of her strings sang a final note of tension and popped straight out of her skin, carrying off little flecks of flesh.

“Netta, calm down, for the last time…”

“Calm!” she screeched, “Down!?”

The full tilt jostle of her mosaic body slammed towards him. His cock winced.

“The Emerald House is mine!” she thundered. To make her point plain, she began to destroy the furniture. Drutherstone’s top hat came under her control and she tossed it out a window.

Drutherstone sucked his teeth. Wordlessly, he turned around and egressed from The Emerald House. He retrieved his hat from the green muck. His throat issued a large slime ball. Then he reentered the house containing their disagreement.

“Don’t throw my hat.”

“I’ll murder you. I’ll sever your neck with piano string. I’ll quit. I’ll move to Arabia! Janus Tewditch still knows how to appreciate me.”

“Janus Tewditch is broke and he married his contortionist.”

Marrionetta turned purple, mottled pink and finally settled on a piqued beige. “He’d put me in his act.” She snapped her woody fingers. “Like that.”

Drutherstone sank to his knees and took her hand in his. She let him kiss her hand while she stared at the ceiling. “Please, Netta. This is temporary. Just let the doctor stay in the house and pay some exorbitant rent for a while. I’ll buy you a bracelet. You know how badly we need the money. We’re off peak this century.”

Marrionetta removed her hand from his and tapped his forehead with calculating malice. But she was thinking about it. Soon, she crossed her arms. It was a complex crossing given the hinged nature of her being. Many angles seemed to intersect within her intersections and the grain of her stood out, lithe and beautiful. She was in major disrepair but an underlying elegance shone through the grime and the disappointment.

“A pretty one. Big big rubies.”

“The biggest,” Drutherstone intoned.

Aden-dactyl-o-meterĀ 

Indexing this foul laboratory has been one of the most bitter tasks of my life. Consider, the Adendactylometer. Not solely comprised of man and beast in ghastly combination but machine as well. Glands. All types of glands from the brains, viscera, and bowels of various creatures — humankind among them — all contained in labeled feeder baubles. The baubles connect by wiring to three limp hands of graying skin.

For the sake of completeness only did I handle the machine. I intended only to learn the purpose of its construction and operation. What dreadful science! Turning the dial beneath each bauble (releasing glandular excretions into the wiring) animates the hands with the moods and humors of the selected endocrine.

Awful, awful. I nearly vomited.