It was a warm day, in the middle of May and the clocks all struck fourteen.
Unseen, the wagons rattled into Dodge, battled through canyons, bogs, prairie dogs with clowns and jesters, to pester the unsuspecting town.
And so, the spectacles began with rides and games and lions tamed; that drew the crowds from house and home, to roam around the circus troupe. In groups they laughed and smiled, whiled away their heedless day; until, at last, they were drawn, like splinters, to the main event: a tent with a big top, and large stripes, and a hype built up out of all proportion.
Throwing caution to the wind, out stepped the circus master; a notorious trickster with an elixir or two up his sleeve, ready to relieve an audience desperate to be fixed.
“The window,” he announced, with his dastardly, bastardly flouncing cape.
Held up his hand to a crowd agape and in it was wedged the tiniest fledgling of an idea. Just a frame, around a simple glass pane. Inane really as a miracle cure… to the untrained eye.
“The window,” he repeated.
And around him, all seated, the audience, frowned.
“We’ve all seen a window before,” yelled the Plant in the crowd.
“But not like this,” hissed the Master.
Uncowed, he stepped forward again. Once more held up the frame.
“It’s what’s through the window that’s truly magic: a gadget for unlimited wisdom.”
The crowd gasped, as the Plant rasped his timely line:
“That’s all fine and dandy, but how does it work?”
The Master leaned forward. Slowly rolled the tip of his goatee point, between the long gnarly bones of his finger joints. And, with a jerk of his head, flicked his eyes, licked his lips and worked the rabble into a babbling throng. All primed to be sung the song of life and strife and his answer to their prayers.
“Who dares step forward?” he called to the herd.
And given the word, the Plant threw up his hand.
“Good man,” smiled the Master. “Come down to the ring.”
And the window was placed over the face of the Plant. Tied at the back, the window turned black.
“It’s a miracle!” cried the man behind the window pane. “Now I know everything!”
Around the ring the crowd rustled, shuffled in their seats, with restless feet. And a surging urge to be part of the scene.
“What do you mean?” called a man from the stalls. “Has your brain been fried?”
The Master beamed his beguiling smile.
“Of course not,” he replied. “This man is set free. He can see everything now he has ever wanted to see. And who will be next?”
There was a muted hush… before the inevitable rush towards the stage. All thrilled, the herd milled around the circus floor.
Except at the door, where the Plant in the know had been thanked and let go.
And so, right on cue, the Master threw back his cape, clapped his hands and drew back the curtains at the rear of the ring. In trooped his troupe, carrying box after box, each laid on the floor: an offering proffered to the crowd at the Master’s feet.
And to seal the deal of the window’s appeal the hoopla began, with a warbling singer who sang about life and strife; while the knife thrower threw, the human canon flew and the flying trapeze, with ineffable ease, wooed the herd in a girdle sewn tight for her flight through the air.
To be fair, there was never much question over the power of suggestion and the hypnotic effect over the pliable mass. Glass sheet after glass sheet, all surrounded in frames, were extracted from boxes, placed on heads over eyes: a disguise most transparent.
“Now think,” spoke the master “of your heart’s desire.”
The warbling singer pitched higher and higher. A crescendo of tension and tight-rope suspension. As the crowd opened their minds, plugged their brains and their pockets to the sockets of this gadget.
At the door, the Plant turned and looked back to the ring, as a strange thing began to emerge: a silence most curious. Some might say spurious, as each man, woman, child, with the power of their minds had been muted.
They circled the ring, pale and absorbed, orbed each other yet unable to see anything but the alternative world unfurling in front of their eyes.
“What’s happening to them?” cried the Plant to the Master. But the latter was faster and keener by far. He leaned towards the Plant, raised his brow, stroked his beard. “Are you afeared for them?” he sneered through whiskers well-tamed. “You think I’m to blame?”
“What have you done?” gasped the Plant.
“Just some fun,” laughed the Master, casting a glance at the masses. “They got what they ask for. What? Don’t you think they look happy?” He pointed at each sappy grin hanging lifeless around the chins of the throng. “What’s wrong? Having a crisis of conscience? You were part of this, don’t forget.” Their eyes met, but the Plant looked away.
In the middle of the ring one man began to sway. Dropped to his knees, he pleaded and pulled at the glass on his face. Desperately tried to retrace his steps to reality.
“There’s always one,” sneered the Master, “who can’t see the fun. Tie the knot tighter,” he cried to a juggler astride the struggling man. “That ought to do it. He’s through it now. No more fighting for him. He won’t be back any time soon.” And the man who had swooned was once again mechanically tuned.
“Where has he gone?” asked the Plant.
“To his own little world.”
“An alternative reality?”
“Just a technicality. For really, what is ‘real’?”
But the Plant could feel his blood turn cold to stone. Now alone, he looked around at a town remote.
“And on that note,” said the Master to the Plant. “With your whole town gone you’ll be quite on your own. And so really it might be a kindness for you to partake in this blindness.” And he held up a window in his sinewy hand. Placed an arm round the Plant to stand him in one place as the juggler secured the glass around his troubled face. “There you go,” soothed the circus master. “It’s so much easier to submit. And admit it, it’s really rather a dream to exist behind this screen.”
It was a dark day, in the middle of May and the clocks all struck fourteen.
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"and the clocks all struck fourteen." Is this a 1984 reference? “That’s all fine and dandy, but how does it work?” Should I be imagining a cockney accent? Because I definitely am. "In trooped his troupe" Big fan of Dr Seuss? In trooped his troop drinking goopy soup while they looped the hoop over the stoop. "They circled the ring, pale and absorbed, orbed each other yet unable to see anything but the alternative world unfurling in front of their eyes." My apologies you are Dr Seuss. The reminded me a bit of the Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus.
Thanks for the comment! Yes, I was going for a dystopian feel with the time - almost a sequel to 'and the clocks all struck thirteen'... although maybe this is just a bit overly ambitious. I've actually never read Dr Seuss. True story. But I feel like we're all a little brainwashed on the lilting tones of technology these days so I wanted to create a sort of loose rhyme through the story. Not sure if it worked really but it was an interesting exercise anyway.