“That sound again”
There was only silence and darkness shifting like the curtains of an unlit stage. The sounds were a dull metronome blending into the ultimate silence rising slowly.
“Like a fucking trumpet from hell or something”
Through the darkness grey shapes gradually undulated in the mist. Huge figures with grey mottled flesh like a corpse, long noses and huge ears.
“What are you called? Hephalumps or something? I saw you in a book, I think. I thought you were all gone.”
More and more appeared out of the darkness, their eyes empty, only silence as they moved, all looking at Pookie.
“Wait didn’t we do this before? I guess the writer forgot this was supposed to be a recurring theme or something. It beats flashbacks I guess.”
“Are you having another flashback” The head elephant said.
“I said are you having another-“ Riki said, his voice pulling Pookie back into reality.
“Just a dream” Pookie said with his eyes closed “Completely unrelated.”
Riki nodded like that made sense, he paused and breathed out as he perched on the edge of Pookie’s cot. “That technique he used, it’s ancient, from the old old world, called the ‘spirit blade’.”
Pookie looked down at himself as he lay, doing an inventory. “That’s a cool name, how did you hear about it?”
Riki grinned “I’m just fucking with you, I just thought it sounded cool” He turned with a shit eating grin.
Pookie grimaced as he rose off his back into a sitting position. He felt stiff all over, he was lying in a bed in a tent he’d never seen before. his shirt off, he looked down at his hands, they were bandaged delicately, by a woman’s hand.
“He said he could read my mind” Pookie said queerly.
“Probably bullshit just to scare you.” Riki shook his head.
“…” Pookie just looked at his hands and thought about that, squeezing them lightly.
“If that was the case he’d be unbeatable, he’d see all your moves before you made them, you’d have to use something no one had ever seen before, even you.”
There was a moment he sat in silence contemplating his palms.
“So are you really dying or did you just want to see him use that weird shit on me first?” Pookie asked.
Riki smiled sadly with one side of his mouth.
“I see” Pookie sighed.
“But what do you care, you just met me.” He said laughing.
“She did this, that girl Jersey?” Pookie said more as a statement than a question.
“Yeah how did you know”
“I don’t know, I just had a feeling”
Riki laughed and got up from his stool “Well you keep acting all cool like that and she might just fuck you”.
Pookie sighed irritable and laid back down.
Riki just let out a little breathy laugh and started to leave.
“You think you can beat him?” Pookie asked Riki’s back.
“Maybe.” he sighed and said “But maybe I won’t have to.” He smiled looking up at the sky, the sun bleaching out his face and forcing him to close his eyes like a kid getting his photograph taken.
As the sun set the heavy flap of a tent a whole wasteland away was opened and closed noiselessly, inside a single candle burned.
The figure that entered walked over to the candle light, stopping just short of it so the light only licked the tips of his toes. Then without words he mimed the laying of a tatami mat at his feet and kneeled.
Out of the dimness a ghostly white face rocked into the light like a marionette operated by a drunk. The face was stoney and still. Painted white with black around the eyes and mouth resembling a dimestore wooden indian flaked with white paint.
The one kneeling nodded at his master.
His master began to speak with his hands miming his words.
(Subtitles read) “Report, why do you abandon your post guarding the swammy?”
The kneeling one began to reply in sign and mime, without making a sound. (Subtitles read) “Lord Cesare my master, during my time with the swammy I believe I have encountered the one they call ‘Pookie’. The fugitive sought by the ringmaster, what’s more his accompanied by a deserter and a strange girl. He is currently hosted by a group not affiliated with the circ-.”
Cesare the mime shogun put his hand out to stop him. (Subtitles read) “You talk too much Pepe”
The mime bodyguard froze (Subtitles read) “There’s more, your son.”
(in subtitles) “Brandon?”
The body guard continued (in subtitles) “It seems as if he wants to fall in with this strange lot but he was turned away. Humiliated by the man leading them, at least I think it’s a man.”
(subtitles read) “He brings great shame onto me and our clan, but his failings are my own. He was cocky and I fed into his cockiness, I paid strong warriors to fall before him, but soon he challenged one that would not be swayed by money and he lost. When he found out what I did he was lost to me, searching for purpose outside of the circus.”
(subtitles read) “What would you have me do my Shogun?”
(Subtitles read) “The one known as Pookie is not to be harmed, for now. He is of grave interest to the ringmaster, but these others, the outcasts, they cannot be allowed to live.
Although Brandon is my shame, it is not their right to dishonour him, his weakness is my own and it cannot be known. Speak no word of this to the swammy, take a detachment of Mime ninjas with you, do it swiftly and leave no trace.”
(subtitles read) “Yes sir”
(subtitles read) “The clown must not be hurt is that apparent”
(subtitles read) “Readily sir.”
The mime shogun retracted his statue like face back into the darkness.
Later that night Pookie left the safety of the tent feeling as stiff as an ironing board with morning wood. Riki was milling about outside leaning against a post watching as Canard and Efron frolicked with the other performers. Canard especially looked to be having a good time, evidently getting into their supply of grain alcohol. The two were laughing and singing with the oddly dressed men as the sun slowly set on the day.
Riki sensing Pookie in the opening said “Are you feeling better?”
“I asked you if you could beat him” Pookie said looking past him.
“And I said maybe”
“What happens if you die?” Pookie said softly.
“You mean to them? Probably nothing” He laughed and then paused looking at them “What about you?” He said tossing his head bac.
“What about me what?”
“What’ll happen to them if you die?”
He paused for a moment having never given thought to that. “Probably nothing, or they’ll die, who knows, I’ll be dead.”
“Does your life mean that little to you?” Riki smiled.
“Does yours?” Pookie sighed. “You know, sometimes it feels like I’m only just starting to get this world.” He said as he looked at Efron smiling and laughing horsing around with the drunken one legged man. “and then-“
“It’s all ripped out from under you”. Riki finished his sentence.
Pookie sighed again. “That’s not what I was gonna say.”
“Life sucks” Riki said “But it’s all we’ve got.”
“I guess so”
“Because we hope one day it’ll all mean something, that it’ll make sense, that’s why we keep going.”
“Do you really believe that?” Pookie asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Anyway I think you should fight him.” Riki said wistfully.
“Why me?” Pookie scoffed.
“Because you’re the main character” Riki laughed.
Pookie frowned and said “I couldn’t even touch him, he’s unbeatable.”
“If you want to cut him you can cut him.”
Suddenly Pookie heard the voice of his master in his head and it sent a shiver up his spine. “What?”
“I can teach you if you’ll let me”
“Fat chance” Pookie scoffed and went back into the tent.
The fat yellow ball had dipped below the horizon and the fires still lit were dying down with the sounds of revelry of the gay troupe.
Night had crept over their heads slowly and they were feeling it’s pull as they rested their heads, some in their makeshift tents, some under the stars.
The queer night sounds washed over them as they slumbered. The silence and the crackling firepits becoming a cacophony. The orange night sky with it’s dull sickly glow planking over their heads.
Out of the silence and the darkness shapes moved noiselessly. Their speed and precision like that of a kookoo clock marionette sliding into place, on rails and inhuman, cold to the touch. The shape of a person robotically moving into place one after the other.
“Don’t be afraid of the fire” A mocking voice said laughing.
He could see the smoke, it took the shape of a large grey beast.
“You guys again?”
A woman’s scream, a child like fear washing over him.
“What is this. s dream?” Pookie said. “This can’t be real”.
“You’re next kid!” The voice laughed.
“Who are you?” Pookie said it but a boys voice came out. He was small, insignificant, a child, alone, an orphan.
The darkness ablaze, the smell of smoke and melting plastic, the screams, the screams of the elephants.
Pookie woke to the smell, the smell of smoke, he felt the heat of the fire before he could see it. He could feel the creeping tension of death stretching over them like a sleepy cat.
“Get up!” He whispered harshly at Canard who was peacefully dozing off his drunk.
Efron’s small scared eyes lit up in the darkness as if she was never really asleep. Just a scared little animal pretending so the big monsters would pass her by.
“I said get up!” Pookie said as he kicked Canard’s cot over.
“What’s for breakfast mom?” He said now under his cot.
Pookie didn’t say anything, he crossed the tent quickly and quietly to peak out of the opening.
Canard felt his urgency and slipped out from under his cot and sidled up beside him cautiously. “Something going down?”
“Shit” Canard hissed under his breath as he went over to the corner to get his staff. “Just when I was starting to like this place.”
There was a shriek outside the tent, Pookie opened the flap just wide enough for one eye. He peered out into the dusky blackness of the night lit by the dull luminous orange starless sky. Out of the murkiness one of the transvestites shambled into view, his dress torn, a halo of blood around his head. He limped helplessly aimlessly, breathlessly calling for help. Then instantly the darkness pounced on him baring it’s bright white teeth. The spark of a blade and a ghostly white face.
The only thing coming from the tranny was a dry whistling sound of the arterial spray from his neck. He fell slowly to his knees and onto his side, his open lifeless staring off towards Pookie.
The dark shape was still standing over the corpse and then it flashed it ghostly white face in the direction the corpse was staring. Pookie closed the flap again.
“Shit, I think he saw me.” He cursed under his breath.
“Who is it? That guy from before, the one in the silly hat?” Canard whispered
“I don’t think so.”
“Then who the fuck is it?”
“I dunno, I didn’t get a good look at him”
There was a faint sound, almost undetectable by a normal person. the sound of weightless footsteps on the roof of the tent. Both warriors stared like cornered animals at the ceiling of the tent. Then something else outside, no sound, just the feeling of murderous intent, eyes burning right through the tent.
“Well you’re about to” Canard hissed and flung open the spear blade from his staff.
There was a deep stillness for a moment that seemed like it would last forever. An eternity went by as they waited for something to happen, the smell of the fires growing closer. Then there was an unnerving sound like someone running their finger along the outside of the tent.
A figure was lit against the tent, tall and thin, it meticulously ran it’s finger in the shape of a door along the outside of the tent. It’s movements were stiff and robotic as if it were a puppet operated by unseen hands.
Canard licked sweat off his top lip as he waited for the figure to make a move.
Within two breaths the canopy of the tent gave way with muted ripping swooshing sound. Something fell coiled and without sound and split the room in half casting a huge plume of dust and smoke.
Efron scrambled to get under her cot with the dog and her gun which was out of bullets for plot convenience. The two warriors leapt to the opposite corners of the tent their hands on their weapons gripped tightly, ready.