Pirates AND circuses.
Could my day get ANY better?
Pirates. Circuses. Elf Ninjas… and…wait for it… MECHANICAL WOMEN.
Of course, it could be a set-up for one of Droppa’s bad jokes. The punchline seems to be a purring table. Oh, and elves. You know, the “other white meat.” Maybe it’s “How many surrealists does it take to light a lantern?” No giraffes and no bathtubs full of multichromatic monkey wrenches.
So, where to begin… I’ll just pick a random spot and call it the OUAT. You know. The “Once Upon A Time.” To thine own self be true, right?
Once Upon A Time in a Golden Circle Kingdom with a name like “Dirt” or “Paradise” or “Blessings Be On This Sacred Land Where We Were Seeded By An Alien Species And Told To Grow Into Maturity,” I ran into the D-man for some lunch (he picked up the bill, promptly dropped it, and then paid it) and some spying. He knows I’m good for a strong arm, but this job seemed to be a bit more of a loose bodyguarding role, something where I make more observations as to who (or whom, I can’t ever remember which) will require a good introduction to a brick wall later. I’m a matchmaker that way.
It’s a thug thing: you wouldn’t understand.
So, minutes after I’m making my pouch for expenses disappear (um, that is, from the eyes of would-be thieves, not spilling the coinage on ye old sweettooth), draining the mug, and gesturing to the cute serving lad for a refill, I get this hag in my face. A real runner-up in the snaggletooth sweepstakes, with a driving desire for the kickbacks of her vaunted position. Rather than giving her the literal boot, I played it miserly, and figured if things needed doing elsewise, I’d look her up. Hey, she impressed me, if only for her unpleasantness. Sweet are the uses of adversity.
Looked like we had a hooter in the corner. Kneeslapping and paddywhacking, I’d bet. If I knew, of course, what kind of a knick-knack a paddywhack was. I raised my mug to him, and got to know him later. Old Ben, caricature artist and people observer. Furniture. The kind of fellow you don’t notice until he’s gone.
Muriel. That was her name. Her son raised a bit of a squawk that evening, until I suggested that his collarbone was far more fragile than he’d like. I expected I’d probably rate some community grievance for it, but once you extend said neck out far enough, it’s people like myself who are known to chop first and ask questions later.
Yeah, you can do that here. Weird place. I’m getting to it.
So, after interrogating the locals, flirting a bit with the server boy, and probably setting things up for the local “connected” to decide I was taking sides, I went ahead to bed.
Enter unusual event.
I sleep with the window open. Old wizard pal of mine used to say he’d prefer knowing which way his enemies were coming from, and I always figured that at the very least, it gave me a quick escape route. Never get caught in a place without a back door, is what I say. Besides, I’m a light sleeper, and anything coming in has to risk me. The place had a balcony, anyway, so they’d have to be determined.
I was most wroth to discover that whatever it was, it only left a heavy mechanoid. Probably pricy, and they dropped it in my lap. I waited a moment to see if it would go off. I prodded at it, played with it, and saw that this amulet of sorts was etched with what’s probably a fortune cookie fate, and a compass pointing someplace other than north.
Hoofbeats in the background, and I dreamt that the tooth fairy brigade had an enforcer arm. I remember threatening to tear off wings if they tried to take any extra teeth.
Morning and I figured I’d drop by the treehugger, erm, “local druid” to see if he was going to make a fuss in having a big ol’ party in his backyard. I was going to buy a few treats from the local sweet vendor (yeah, well, money burns a hole in my pocket, which is why I love to gamble), when I was addressed by a fellow telling me the wheels on the circus wagons were going wonky. I hailed a wainwright, found out they made wagons, not just wheels, and went to find a specialist. I would escort the group in… or find out what mischief was eating at them.
Mischief indeed. I should write a few libelous versus with a chorus about a tall man, a beared lady, and a midget. Sounds like a carol. If I could hold a tune, I’d sing it. I’m no trobairitz, though. I’m just a casual ale-house and shower singer. And yes, if you’re wondering, there’s a difference between the two. Ale-houses and show–oh, just forget it. I will be free, even to the uttermost, as I please, in words.
So, I was introduced to the Major or the General or the Sergeant or the Mercenary or whatever his name was. Something militant. The Ringmaster. The Gatekeeper. I don’t know. We know what we are, but know not what we may become. Anyway, he was in charge, and totally giving me the shoulder. The chip on it, at any rate – I couldn’t tell the temperature.
I don’t think I ever got the name of my shadow travelling friend.
Indeed, the wheels had snapped through, and we were going to need wood to replace them. You have no idea how much I could have used a roll of duct tape, but I try to use the stuff that holds the universe together somewhat sparingly.
Some of the natives watched as happy horse man and the Tall Thin Man (HHM and TTM if I have to refer to them again) and I rode down towards timber. Or up towards timber. Whichever way lumber was, we lumbered.
We rode through a deserted town, the kind of silence that unchallenged imaginations fill with ghosts. I’m not so superstitious, but I made a bunch of noise in case something needed to be disturbed.
I tried to keep up a dialogue at TTM (see, I get a chance to use the short form!) [and at, rather than with, if you know what I mean] so as to point out he’s going to be able to see someone a lot faster than I am. Kind of weird how that works: the taller you are, the quicker your sight.
So, we find a great deal of wood just lying around. I’m working up an “IOU” note that I don’t intend to pay (after all, it’s just borrowing the stuff of the universe from place to place) when we’re harassed by some geezer with a projectile weapon. After you’re on the wrong end of a few, you learn to recognize ’em quick. We follow him down, down, down this totally renovated mine area so he can get the OK on us “borrowing” a few beams. It had a kind of Area 51 look.
So this little man runs through some divination hardware, heavy on those special cards and a couple of television screens, and decides we’ll go back for a drink and a meal. Hard for me to turn them down; he could have spiked it with truth serum or something, but once you’ve been in the business like I have you realize the smart ones just kill you if they’re going to…and something about Lovelace or Loveless or Lovelass or whatever his name was didn’t seem the dumb type.
That’s when he told me about the mechanical women. I looked but I couldn’t see anything clicking, any gears turning, and I figured it’d be rude to ask if I could take one apart. They looked like women, but then, so do sirens, harpies, Stepfords, and a variety of vampiric nymphs (until they want to eat your flesh.)
Um. Story for another time, maybe.
I humoured the fellow up until he started asking me questions about an amulet. Since I was already pretty sure the amulet was meant for me I played dumb. It’s easy, especially if you get practice at it. You think “blank.” Blank, blank, blank. White, empty rooms, that stretch on for infinity. I sometimes practice feeling bits of danger, not just oppressiveness in the white & empty, but like something invisible is stalking you, the viewer, stepping into the white room. It’s a survival technique. I especially hate things that try to get into my head, so I’m definitely not pulling out the welcome mat on those.
“I guess I’m supposed to get one.” What, the amulet fairy was going to visit me? Well, of course…
He offered me an opportunity to deal if I got one. I wasn’t going to switch my story right then, as I was still thinking, “white, blank, dull” and letting it rise to my eyes. I told him I’d duly consider it. Maybe he’d give me a mechanical woman. Wait, two…because I’d need the extra after I took the first apart and she broke.
The tall thin man had great strength. I looked up at him and considered how I’d phrase my offer to climb him and see how well he twisted into knots…er… we rode back in relative silence.
It wasn’t until the bearded lady and the midget went back and made some
noises, getting things all heated up that the hand of some god picked all of us up and placed us…