The long way of drums
“I’m sorry about your brother” The stranger said as he poked at the small fire in the centre of the darkened shack. One knee raised, a sword behind it resting against the wall.
“Juan was a fool, always rushing in headlong.” The first born said, a large tanned Mexican with a barrel chest and a pencil thin moustache.
“When he heard about the man you wanted us to kill, he wanted all the glory for himself, he got what he deserved.” The second born said, almost as large as his brother sporting a goatee.
“We won’t fail you” The firstborn said.
The man at the fire lifted his head, the light from the flickering flames licked the strange acrylic clown mask on his face. “I admire your pragmatism, I know what it’s like to lose a brother.” He said.
“Wait Pookie! You’re only supposed to pull the trigger once per turn!” Efron squealed as she reached for the gun. “Why?” Pookie said with the gun still to his head “This is faster”
“Its not ab- Nevermind” Efron frowned.
Pookie put the gun down on the table and slid it over to Canard who was completely devoid of expression.
“Ok now just on-“
Before she could finish Canard had already put the gun to his head.
Click click! “-ce! What did I just say, now there are only two chambers left so it’s a fifty fifty chance that the next chamber has the bullet in it.”
“And it’s your turn” Canard grinned as he slid the revolver across the table.
Pookie’s face stayed the same as he picked up the gun concentrating on the chamber, emptying it with his mind. Breathing in deeply and tensing his finger around the trigger.
A giant wrecking ball crashed through the window and tore a giant hole through the thin walled saloon. The walls splintered like kindling sending glass, wood and shards of metal shrapnel everywhere.
The giant wrecking rested in the destruction attached to a chain which snaked on the ground. Slowly the chain retracted and then quickly whipped away taking half the building with it.
Pookie coughed as he cleared his lungs of dust and looked around the saloon that now looked like an apple with a giant bite taken out of it.
He looked around.
“Great” Canard said from underneath the booth seat he was only a minute ago sitting on.
A little hand with a gun in it came up from behind the bar “I’m ok” Efron said.
The bartender, a balding middle aged man with an unflattering haircut popped up next to her “What the hell was that, a hurricane?”
“Yeah, hale stones the size of your head.” Pookie shook his head like there was dust in it and got up off the ground dizzily looking for his sword. He found it underneath a pile of old magazines from a broken spinning rack.
“A little help for the cripple?” Canard voice muffled by the furniture on top of it.
Pookie sighed and attempted to push the couch off of him.
“IF THERE’S ANYONE STILL ALIVE IN THERE YOU’VE GOT TO THE COUNT OF THREE TO COME OUT!” A booming voice with the slight twang of a spanish accent said.
“I guess that’s for us” Pookie said as he strained with the couch.
“Just for you, I’m guessing” Canard retorted.
Pookie sighed and dropped the couch back on him. “I guess so” He said with a melancholy tone in his voice as he went to climb out of the hole in the side of the saloon.
Outside it was hotter than before, the sun was bright and glaring blotted out only by two round figures standing in the middle of the street.
Pookie walked out squinting at them.
“The man who killed our brother”
“Oh that guy, well that was kind of an accident, but yeah I guess that was me” He sighed “So you’re the masters of swallowing or whatever huh?”
“That’s us” The first born said.
“So you really think they’ll let you in the circus if you kill me? It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”
“It’s more than that now”. The second said.
“There’s a blood debt to pay.”
“So hows this gonna go down? We gonna duel one on one like last time?” Pookie asked.
“Hahahahahahahahahaha!” Both brothers laughed.
The brother with the goatee didn’t laugh with his voice only his face as his throat started to bulge to an enormous size like a toad. His jaw unhinged and a giant black ball appeared in his mouth.
Pookie squinted in disbelief as he watched this inhuman display. There followed a grotesque suction popping cracking noise as the wrecking was spat with a tremendous speed.
The ball hit like a meteor right at Pookie’s feet. The clown samurai jumped at the last second and under the cover of the dust it kicked up he ran along the chain towards the two assassins.
His sword at his side, his finger in the ring pull.
“There he is!” The second born said his voice sounding like he had cotton balls in his mouth.
The first born cut off his laughter, his eyes bulging and bloodshot. He opened his mouth and started to wretch, his throat distending with a long spherical shape. The opening in his mouth a pitch black emptiness.
Pookie caught sight of it in the corner of his eye but couldn’t make out what it was and then at once he knew he was staring into the barrel of a cannon.
“Oh crap” He whispered.
The firstborn leaned forward to ready for the recoil and somehow through some internal mechanism he fired.
Time slowed and Pookie saw the chain shot swirling at him, a ball connected by a thin chain swirling destruction aimed right at him. Without thinking he pulling the ripcord on his sword and it roared with laughter cutting the chain in half. The cut freed the two balls which shot off at either side of him.
One of the balls hit the ground and exploded with a dull thud. The other took out a storefront, both explosions bouncing Pookie like a skipping stone, skidding along the ground.
He came to a stop, his naked sword in his hand quivering. The clown samurai stabbed it into the ground raising himself to a knee, breathing heavily.
“Interesting” The firstborn said. “You’re the first to survive that”.
“What are you made out of, rubber?” The second born asked.
“He’s too dumb to die” Canard said.
Pookie scowled as he scraped himself off the ground.
Efron giggled, “It’s still your turn”.
“Can’t ya see I’m a little busy right now?” Pookie shouted.
“Are you forfeiting?” Efron sounded shocked.
That weird suction noise again ending the brief pause as the wrecking ball came barrelling at Pookie again. He rolled out of its way as it carved a hideous scar into the earth. “I’ll just skip my turn and get the next one.”
“That’s not how it works!”
“Hmm, but that means if this chamber is empty the next one has to be the bullet.” Canard scratched his chin, weighing his options.
“So if you live-“ Efron looked away.
Inside the inner ring, a large round table was erected under the big top which was yet to be taken down. Inside the large tenr a silence fell as dusk approached. Around the table sat the heads of each clan under the banner of the circus.
At the head of the table sat the Ringmaster.
Sitting at his left, of the romanies, the seer and mystic known as Poughkeepsie. A gorgeous woman with black hair and ruby lips drawn on a veil across her mouth. Her dark eyes filled with mystery and promise.
Of the animal trainers, Tanner, a young man who never the less had leathery looking skin and strawlike blonde hair.
Of the freaks, the bearded lady, Matilda, a rotund woman with broad shoulders and a long pleated brown beard. Her hair done up in a style like Marie Antoinette, her make up overblown and expressive. Her manner was open and warm but those that knew her, recognised this openness was paired with a hot temper.
Next to her sat the strongman, Charles, he headed a gang known as the ‘brawlers’. They mainly worked security and didn’t have an act per se. He wasn’t particularly tall but broadbacked and imposing. His head shaved completely, the only hair remaining that of his eyebrows and a large vaudeville moustache. He smiled broadly behind a set of rounded sunglasses.
On his otherside the blind knife thrower, Rubineux and his lovely assistant Mercia sitting on his lap. Both dressed like ballroom dancers, headed up a gang called ‘The riffraff’. Rubineux himself was older but with a full set of silver grey hair and a goatee around a smug smile. His head tilted slightly up as if he was looking down on someone but he could not as he was always blindfolded. Mercia was a beauty, dressed in a sequin split gown, long blonde ringlets flowing down an open back. Her legs were taught and tight and muscular and she smiled easily.
Representing the Carney’s was the Inker, Marius. He was average height, middle aged with a round beer belly. Covered head to toe in tattoos so dense at a distance it seemed like he was wearing a shirt but he never did. He only ever wore a leather jacket and jeans and a pair of boots. The tattoos seemingly stopping at his hairline and his slicked back black hair but continuing onto his face. The designs consisting mainly of bones and fire, the bottom half of a skull mask tattooed on his lower jaw.
To his side was Cesare, the shogun of the mime clan. A daunting figure wearing a full set of black and white Shogunate armor. His face palid and expressionless painted white with black stripes under his eyes and on his lips.
At his side sat the new representative of the clowns, Banjo the screw driver. His arms folded looking at Cesare from the corner of his eyes. The mime shogun seemed to barely noticed his presence, looking more like a waxwork than a person.
“What are we waiting for?” Banjo asked the heavy silence in the room. His question answered without anyone even turning to look at him by the sound of tinkling icecream music.
The music was slightly out of tune and jarring with the jangling of the odd notes out of place. A haunting feeling as if it was the sound of the hairs at the back of your neck getting plucked one by one part of some horrifying asmr video.
The sound of a guttural motor, haggard brakes stopping and then the motor shutting off and the music stopping abruptly.
The Icecream man entered dipping his head under the big top opening. He was tall and lean and angular and hunched slightly. His facial features sharp and boney, the way he moved was exaggerated and sinewous like his joints were made of wood and string. His hair was a shock of white spiked into sharp points.
“Sorry to keep you waiting” He whispered in his harsh low voice, smiling at the end, revealing a set of sharp little shark teeth. Taking the empty seat on the Ringmaster’s right.
“What’s he doing here?” Poughkeepsie asked, narrowing her beautiful green eyes into tight slits of malice.
The Icecream man tilted his head towards her opening his mouth. “I make the world taste sweet darlin’”.
“He doesn’t represent a clan” Banjo added.
“Neither do you bucko.” The icecream man smiled looking down on Banjo “What happened to the old man huh, heard he had a little accident.” He chuckled icily leaning on the table looking him dead in his eyes.
He rose and took his hands off the table “I’m forming a new clan, a clan of one!” He grinned and looked about the room for the reactions of disgust and disdain.
“Surely you’re joking?” Mercia laughed.
But the room fell silent and the Icecream man’s face fell from a grin to a stoney grimace. His long sharp features taking on the shape of a grotesque gargoyle.
The sharp crack of cane hitting the table and all turned to look at the Ring master. “Order, order!” He called banging his cane once more. “The honourable gentleman Icecream man has more than earned his place among us and he has the right to make his own clan if he sees fit.” The Ringmaster’s booming playful voice rose over the ice crackling silence. “Now can we come to order and discuss the matter at hand?”
“We all know what this is about” Poughkeepsie sighed. “We might as well get on with it, we’re here to talk about the dead old clown man.”
Mercia and Rubineux stifled a giggle, Charlie the Strongman grinned uncontrollably but didn’t laugh.
Banjo tensed his jaw and could hear his teeth clacking and grinding.
“Yes thank you Poughkeepsie.” The Ringmaster cleared his throat, looking down his nose at her, his moustache twitching. “As you can see Banjo has been elected to take his place for the time being. Following this ‘unfortunateness’ and will be doing so for the foreseeable future.”
“Now onto more pressing business” He breathed in through his nose and looked around the room. “Many of you might have heard rumours about the untimely death of Master Popsicle, the former leader of the clowns.”
“Heard it was one of your own.” Charlie said, a hint of a smile hidden behind his hands, as he rested his elbows on the table, peaking around his clasped knuckles to smirk at Banjo.
“You heard correctly, the murderer was Pookie, you may have heard of him, he was-something of a fan favourite.” The Ringmaster stated.
“Do we know why he did it?” The bearded lady asked.
“That’s yet to be determined” The Ringmaster said.
“Heard he killed more people than the clap, been killing since he was a kid” Charlie said rubbing his hands together and idly looking at his palms. “Just sayin’ you been killing that long you start to like it a little too much, ya hear me?”
“That sounds a little too convenient to me - and you don’t die from the clap” Mercia sneered at him.
Charlie looked over at her and then up and down and said “Yeah you’d know”.
“Please, behave yourselves” The Ringmaster balled at them, looking down his slick moustache. “His crimes are severe and not at all in doubt and if he were here now he would be punished for them. – but I’ve joined you together to tell you I’ve decided for the time being to grant him mercy”
“WHAT?!” Banjo leapt from his seat. “You’re gonna let that murderer roam free?”
The Ringmaster waved his hand at Banjo “I’ve decided that we can’t stop the convoy for one man. He will have his day under the big top, that I am sure of but until then, the wheels of justice must continue on”
“What is it we do here? I thought we got together to put down feral fucking animals like him. To bring order to this great big steaming pile of shit we call our world” Banjo yelled.
“And we will do it, in the next town and in the town after that. Bringing justice and laughter and applause for generations to come. Striking fear into those that would oppose us and our – divine purpose.” He sighed looking at Banjo who stood incensed and incredulous. “We’ll bring it down to a vote, all those in favour of moving on say ‘I’”
All said I, banjo said nothing.
“Then it’s decided, this ‘business’ has delayed us enough.”
“And what about Margherite, what about your daughter?” Banjo asked.
“What about her?” The Ringmaster said raising an eyebrow, his mustache hopping off his face with a twitch of his lips.
“She ran off to go find him”
He let out a long breath “Margherite has done whatever she wanted from the day she fell out of her sow of a mother. But she can handle herself, I’m sure she’ll return to us in time.” The Ringmaster’s eyes and tone were fixed the entire time, a slight hint of rage lifted at the end slightly, followed by another twitch of his moustache. “Meeting adjourned”.