The box closes upon the hermit, sucking his soul into its volume and sending a shockwave through the swamp woods that wakes a couple of hitchhikers who are sleeping on the side of the road.
The travelers re-sling their pillows and lace up their shoes, continuing their quest further from their hometown and the life it holds. They have their thumbs held high but cars don’t even hardly notice. They’ve all got their windows rolled up tight, scared for their safety, and and annoyed by inconvenience. Everyone’s got places to get to. Like the circus. Dense clouds of billboards advertise it from the roadside. Taglines read, “Come one, come all! Witness for yourselves the event critics are calling a masterpiece, a massacre, a twisted hip-hop shock shop, this year’s hottest event, a forerunner for tomorrow’s trendiness, the bejeweled crown of our time, and a life-like-bloody-pile-of-you-won’t-believe-your-eyes!”
“Three miles away.” “Two miles away.” “One mile away from the best darn thing you’ve ever experienced in your life!”
“Can we!? Can we!?” Cries Musette, one of the traveler’s, tugging on her boyfriend’s sleeve.
“I don’t know, sweetheart… We haven’t got much money left…” The boyfriend responds.
“Oh, but please… I ain’t never seen a circus before…”
The boyfriend, Adam, checks his wallet again. A few fluttering bills pathetically wave in the desert breeze.
“I guess that we might have enough…” he says.
“Oh yes! Oh yes! Yes! I’m so excited!”
She pulls Adam faster, transitioning their pace into a jog, dragging him off the highway, assimilating them into a long line of ticket purchasers. Stilted performers zig-zag through the line, handing balloons out to children, their painted faces clip cloping over a playlist of exaggerated expressions.
At the box office, Adam gives some of his precious dollars to the ticket master. He and Musette enter the tent. It’s massive inside. An optical illusion. Lions rustle within their cages while white tigers sharpen their teeth. A kaleidoscopic parfait of red and orange streamers flutters from the rafters, garnishing the arena with bohemian flare.
Adam and Musette take their seats on a step of knot dotted plank board. Cobweb carnival music chinks out in stereophonic surround sound, bouncing against the fluttering tent fabric.
Hidden within a shadow shrouded corner, a trance masked, parachute pant wearing, balloon headed carnival worker rolls his arm through Ferris wheel revolutions, feeding a bird beak sewing needle through tracks of pin-prick indents, rolling through railway patrols of slowly spinning, stainless steel, dinnerware disk relics of the pre-phonographic, post-psychedelic age. He stands in solitude, shoes two sizes too long, with fabric of thrift drowning his figure, an archetypal spinster, tall and lean as a beanpole, hidden from the audience, trilling his treble behind a crackling acrylic, fire engine red smile, which is painted, with detail driven consideration, upon his plaster mask idee-fixation upon the eclectic variations of sound.
Behind the scenes an indiscreet monkey clinks his finger cymbals together. A plank seated boy gasps in sudden shock, awakening from a daydream. Mistaking the waking gasp for a sneeze, the boy’s summer dress wearing mother turns her head towards the boy, offering him an improper “God-bless-you,” piercing a rusting bobby pin that holds her hair together through the stretch stressed skin of an onion top, scatter scavenging toddler’s pink balloon, erupting a quick and intrusive “PoP!” that causes the little sweetheart to cry with shock and disappointment.
The last of the tickets are sold. The gas lamps dim and the flaps of the tent close, locking the audience into the spectacle.
Four drawbridges drop from the corners of the tent. Dust devils sputter to life.
“That sure was startling, was it not?” asks a nervous boyfriend to his controlling girlfriend, slap happily wrapping his trembling fingers around the girl’s youthfully supple, creamy-under-cover-of-squeaky-denim-dungarees thigh in a hastily implemented, albeit long thought out moment of passion seeking brilliance, seizing the moment for one final attempt at catching a glimpse of his cold hearted woman’s off guard and rare unmasked innocence, before shatter blasting his testicles into coward driven fatalities later that night at an eternally long, family pressured, circusumferential engagement/after party/proposal.
The boyfriend’s awkwardly shouted question opens a hole in the tense silence, reigniting the other audience members’ conversational wicks, causing them all to say things like, “What were we talking about again?” and “Oh, darnit all if I remember! But how’s that boy of yours doing?”
From the spaces revealed behind the fallen drawbridges something stirs. The sound of crashing chains grows louder until it rumbles like thunderbolts, clanking a clatter nihilistic in motive, beating bass bumps into the empty spaces of the atmospheric music box melody, rattling like symbol syllables in a sentence straining to exist, shutting the audience up again, dropping sentences midway through completion, leaving sizzling letters clicking on the tips of tongues, growing so loud that soon only the deaf can claim ignorance and causing weaker willed audience members to cover their ears in agony, while mothers dab the sides of their daughters’ faces with pocket hidden tissues, cleaning up the messes of bleeding ear canals.
The makers of the racket appear, approaching through their shadow portals, creeping slowly into the light of day. They are known as the Cirque du Souffle. The audience is taken aback by their otherworldliness. They look like Laughy Taffy aliens, wiggling about liquidly like bog monster weeds. Gummy strands of fabric drizzle from their skeletons. Each dons a different façade that dangles skyward like a floating pendulum. They contort archetypes, making pretzel snacks of different memory recognitions, dripping visual stimuli into the already soaking wet atmosphere of the lulling auditorium which sits, sopped spongy with auditory sustenance.
Mixing with the motions of the revolver swirling streamers twirling whirlpools before the audience’s eyes, the pastel painted, diamond pattern plated, Easter color shaded, waist coat bramble berry bead dripping body suits of the Souffle members decorate the stage line circumference, fluttering tent fabrics of forgotten fallen nations with tufts of bed bunk goose downing puffing out of stitched over seams.
Through their hands, sewn through the plasticine fiber of their theater style gloves, and pierced through their effeminate skin, weave brassy ringlets of heavy iron chain link, the pain causing them to whip the ground with Pavlovian Tourette spasms as they patrol the audience, their transient porcelain faces, painted with the spectrum of the spirit, glancing into the pupils of various audience members, causing them to ask, “Do you think he peeped within the confines of my heart? You do oh don’t you please?”
Guardian angels respond, “Twas’ mine he did just now so ravishingly expose!”
“Mommy, that man’s face frightens me…” Cries a young girl to her mother.
“What did you say honey?” Responds the heavily cottoned Puritan mother, shouting over the sound of the crashing chains, annoyed by this interruption of her least favorite daughter.
“Son, aren’t you my son?” Asks black man saxophone to a Souffle member’s smile from under the cover of his charcoal apple topping. His arms reach out from under their hounds tooth tweed, seeking to sooth the Souffle member, exposing a glitter within his pupils, pricked exposed through the process of this emphatic flutter.
“Don’t chew so loudly Harold! For Christ’s sake…” Sunday School sluffer scolds detention duty husband, to the reply of mumbled, “Yes ma’am”s and “uh huh”s muted dumb above nods of rolling chin fat folds.
The Souffle members tinkle rain drop coinage tampered heaven as they stop upon respective compass points.
Angel East, Angel West, Angel North, and Angel South, take places, Halt!
Tears of shattered technicolor mantle ruffle with electric singing energy as all Souffle power diverts itself into a forbidden dance of unholy summoning. Chain rain pounds the straining carnival music with blood spurts of fallen angel sweat. The dancers whip the ground more ferociously, whelping and straining, leaking ectoplasm from pinched tear ducts shivering behind their porcelain facades.
The lights dim and flicker. Backstage scenery puppeteers tug on rope. The sounds of snapping cords can almost be heard popping above the chain whipping crescendo. Middle of theatre floor trembles with mechanical movement, resembling, with awe inspiring similarity, the vibrating upper lip of an overweight, popcorn kernel grinding carpet muncher, who is seated on the forty third row, staring, with unobstructed focus, upon the active stage, trying, desperately, with all of her unladylike might, to be the first to partake of this Eucharistic surprise, completely ignorant for the first time in her entire, self-pity fed life, of the cancer filled poop pocket molehill blemish, which tarnishes her chin, jiggling as she quivers, christened by a sparkling bead of sweat, and digging maliciously deeper with razor toothed ridges into her sloppily molded face fabric, rotting her away slowly, from the inside out, and growing more and more poisonous with each fleeting second she lets pass without a visit to a proper specialist for the purpose of removal.
A strain of trumpet blasts erupts from the particles of everywhere. Eardrums fall out at all angles. The tent starts twirling in layers. Women hold tight to their braided hats, watching other more unfortunate ladies lose theirs to the @madness.
The shaky dust, fillibusting around center stage, reveals a hidden trap door, with a lotus petal aperture slowly peeling itself apart.
Drawbridges at the four corners climb closed, sucking the Souffle members back into their darkness. An oriental symbol for entertainment blasts up from the trap door’s exposed pit. It is covered soppily in the tabernacle chorus of everybody’s guardian angel achieving collective orgasm. A being, illuminated by Hell fire, glows crimson in the charcoal pit below, rising towards the surface, sending a malicious looking shadow creepily crawling up the tent sides.
All the souls of the audience are sucked from their eyeballs. Bleeding E-coli tracks tracks gurgle in their wake. A scream, clutter filled with a legion of backwardly uttered bibles verses, bursts like a maggot filled penis from the trap door’s pit, clicking and scratching its way into everybody’s opened ears, stabbing memories into nightmares, crushing civility into a powder, and dousing the powder into an abomination that empowers the left behind animal nature with erotic fire.
The audience shivers, ripping their hair out as all language becomes dyslexic and math becomes Latin. Nobody any longer wants answers. They all just want to maintain their excitement levels.
The trumpets cut mid note. The tent stops swirling. Everyone returns to their accustomed state of civility. They tilt like tops, struck retarded by the silence, naked in the absence of thought, and dripping toxic with a need to be entertained. They look to center stage for relief and perceive the risen Ringmaster standing exposed like a necromanced Uncle Sam. His flesh is a scar tissue murder collage imbued with dead bolt tattoo spells. It melts like cheese fondue, dribbling to the ground, plopping around him, writhing like moaning worms in the dirt, sizzling character portraits of Don Quioxtes, Ivanov the Greats, Bardamus, Gatsbys, Christs.
He wipes his forehead with a modge-podge sleeve of made to order hand me downs. The splintered shards of wonder, these character portraits of flesh, are grinded into an empirically chaotic collective.
He grabs the tip of his hat, lilting it from his head, bowing.“Hello my audience.” He says. “You have been promised a show unlike any other. Something you have never seen before. My petite pretty darlings, my puppies, and my children; mi madre, papishko, proud faces all around – How can I deliver such a thing when you are already stuffed full of everything imaginable?
It cannot be said that you have never seen flying men. Nor have you missed out on tigers prancing playfully. Clowns, of course you’ve had enough of those… They’re all around, everywhere you look… You’ve seen it all!”
An organ strikes a low, bubbling chord, and a set of sparklers ignite within the Ringmaster’s pocket.
“Whoops…” he says, flinging the sparklers to safety. “That’s magic for you.”
The audience laughs, but backstage, the crew is not so amused. “Oh my god…” Says a muscular trapeze artist. “What does he think he’s doing? He’s wasting pyrotechnics again! Somebody should go out there and reel him in. He’s drunk – the stupid fool has had too much tequila again!”
The Ringmaster wonders if Jupiter’s gone retrograde. He paces back and forth, trying to remember his lines.
“Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” He screams, pounding himself on the skull, trying to get back on track, rattling pressure through his palm, and jittering the trigger of a hidden ace of spades up his sleeve, striking flint to blast, and sending a row of rockets fountaining above his head.
The rockets pop colorfully in the air, reflecting in the eyes of the audience who cheer excitedly. Little fat boys, dressed in horizontally striped shirts, roll their arms around their shoulders, fist pumping the sky, whoop whooping with Cheetos popping out between the spaces in their teeth.
Emaciated women, bleeding from their pores, with patches of hairlessness gleaming in the light, lift their blouses to expose their tiny, veiny breasts, their blue collar husbands flitting between jealousy and homosexuality.
The Ringmaster remembers an old clown college equation: (Give them what they want) + (Give them what they want) = (SUCCESS!)
He picks himself up from the dirty floor, brushing himself off. His fingers search for another secret trigger. Positioning himself into a pose, he waits for the audience to settle themselves back down.
“Prepared, anxious, attention deficit audience,” He says. “I implore you, listen! With this magic spell, brewing vilely in my gut and tumbling up my throat, as dry as death, and as hot as mamacita, I release, for you, a demon!”
He presses, hard and stiff, his middle finger into the slanted ace’s eye, dropping the hammer on another pin, igniting another row of bombast up his arm, out his sleeve, and into the air.
The audience dances rings around their seats.
Riding upon this wave of momentum, The Ringmaster raises his other arm, droops his head, mimics the motion of a praying priest, rolls his eyes behind their lids, and says:
“Brothers and sisters, united by the ground upon which we stand, imprisoned together by the skyscrapers bearing down upon us, we come together tonight to partake of a sacrament – a meal for the heart, something more substantial than the glass partitioned reality presented to us from behind the television screens of our collective coma.
I am but a priest – a vessel chosen by the spotlight of show-business. We are all in this together. This is our show. I shall play my part. I shall deliver to you the message. My role places me before you to act as sage and savior: I shall not disappoint…
Ignite now my family! Raise those eyelids from your dream! Awaken and be baptized!”
A dragon vomit stream erupts like flamethrower bullets. The Ringmaster spins in circles, swirling the crackling stream above him.
“We’re all going to burn brothers and sisters! The great shark’s a gonna’ rise from his red ocean and swallow us in the fire of his iniquity! All of our friends are gonna’ burn! All of our families are gonna’ burn! The steeples of our churches are gonna’ burn! Ain’t nothin’ gonna’ escape the flame! The dragon’s gonna’ bite the neck of God and snap it between his jowls! BELIEVE IT!”
Backstage, that muscular trapeze artist has had enough. “Hey you ruddy drunk bastard!” She yells, stepping out from behind the curtains, “I’m tired of this shit!”
The Ringmaster curves a scratchy lipstick murder across his face, turning her direction.
“Get off the stage! The show’s over for you, you lousy, miserable drunkard!”
“But the show must go on. That’s the first rule of the circus…”
“You don’t know the first thing about the circus! You’ve wasted all our pyrotechnics and everybody’s time. Let’s go bub, I’m sick of this shit!”
She tries to pull him off stage, but he doesn’t budge.
“Come on!” She yells, “Let’s go!”
The Ringmaster no longer hears her. All of her shouts sound like they are coming from underwater. He is possessed by his @madness – lost within his burning blood. He grabs the woman by her throat.
“Who’s show do you think this is?” He asks, spitting the words into her face.
“Stop! You’re hurting me!”
“This isn’t my show… It isn’t your show… It is beyond us. It’s time for you to open your eyes and see…”
Tears stream down her face. She tries punching the Ringmaster but can’t. She can no longer speak. Her eyes stare up into his.
The Ringmaster places his finger against her lips.
“Ssshhhh…” He says. “Stop struggling, my little deer. Don’t you know that I’m here to save you?”
Hypnotically he rubs his finger along the curvature of her soft, muscular mouth, focusing his senses on every little ridge, giggling at the smears of lipstick being painted on her face. He positions his hand into the form of a gun, placing the tip of the barrel against the center of her mouth, pushing the finger between her lips.
The audience cranes their necks for a better view.
The woman takes the finger, sucking gentle pressure around the tip. She prays for mercy in the maniac’s eyes. He pushes deeper, and then pulls it back: In and out… in and out, smiling at the strings of spittle sticking to his glove. She wraps her lips tighter. The Ringmaster’s smile grows. The woman begins bobbing her head – up and down, pushing the finger deeper into her throat, rubbing the ribbed inner lining of her mouth’s upper plate.
As the Ringmaster’s smile peaks to a hideous ascension, the woman drops her jaw and snaps, clenching into the Ringmaster’s flesh.
She is the only one to hear the hidden ace’s trigger flip.
A flaming ball of ‘Black Murphy’s Japanese Chop Suey Bang Bang’ blasts into her mouth and out the back of her skull. Bone fragment, blood splatters, and skull flurry blend smoothies around the flaming ball of death, which pops and hisses in the air.
Her body slouches limply. Her open eyes roll back into her mind. The tent is held in slow motion. The Chop Suey Bang Bang explodes repeatedly in its deserved atmosphere of silence.
The Ringmaster closes his eyes and turns his back to the death scene.
“Well…” he says “Show’s over.”
But the statement falls on deaf ears. The tent has lit up with applause. The entire edifice shakes with pounding feet and hollering.
The Ringmaster lets the smile release again upon his face: (Give them what they want) + (Give them what they want) = (SUCCESS!)
“Monsieur Paradigm!” He calls towards the back of house, “Release the tigers! And the lions too, Monsieur Misery! And start up the music again, please!”
Doors lift, and a small streak patters to the floor, ecstatic to be free. The carnival music sputters back to life. The Ringmaster twirls cartwheels between the lions and tigers, laughing and petting their bristly hides. He wrestles with the beasts, gnawing at their fur. Sparkler wheels spin from every sleeve and cranny, catching fire to the royal manes of the lions and further blackening the stripes of the tigers. The cat teeth glow otherworldly as they sink into the Ringmaster’s flesh, drenching his outfit with his blood.
“Come on everybody! Get out here! On with the show! On with the show!”
The performers, with their ambitions warmed anxious by the uproar and applause, leap from backstage, tossing bowling pins into the audience, and lashing their whips into the flames.
The sides of the tent catch fire. Black smoke rises through the bleachers. Nobody can find an exit. Everybody panics. People are being pelted by laughing circus members. The Souffle are sucking souls left and right. Children’s legs are melting beneath the faces of their crying parents. Fashionable hats are stomped beneath scampering hordes of frightened families. Screams wail through the desert, but nobody hears the agony – all the passerby have their car windows rolled up too tightly, and they’re all driving much too fast.