Tragic Stories (disguised as jokes) is a collection of tales told by a monster to a demanding little girl.
Monsters are unlucky in love. Cupid explains. Some monsters are closer than others. There is a monster who only dines on one half of any available loving couple, A specialty. You can judge a person by their hat. If you want to protect your children (and see them less) you send them back in time. Hungry lions. The suicide machine built with love. Hate mail. Oscar Wilde judges the beauty pageant.
A bouquet of thorns. Falsely called the black book.
It was a dusty, blow away town. The crowds here were larger than otherwise, since people here had nowhere else to be. Nowhere they wanted to be otherwise. Surely this was encouraged by the entrance fee, reduced to a scant two bits, cheaper, brother, than the run down movie “palace” on what passed as small town Main Street.
The movie house had worn carpets where the tents at the freak show were bare earth. It had dim lights where here there were full views. Couples would kiss there, in the balcony, if they were not interrupted by an usher serious about a morals policy. Here there was freedom. Still, there was less often kissing among the visitors, as the atmosphere was not as encouraging to amorousness amongst the patrons. And they were patrons. They made all this possible.
The barker intoned as much when he spieled, “Friends, you make all this possible. Were it not for you these unfortunates would languish in poverty and obscurity. Shame, my friends. Shame. We expose the wonders of the natural world. A view of humanity and decency. We thank you for your kind patronage. And please, no screaming in the tents. This way to the attractions.” Hard times. These small towns were the only thing keeping the show afloat. For now.
“Mr. Mayor,” said the barker as he tipped his hat to a little old man at the head of the line. He knew this man from his years in the trade. And he wasn’t the Mayor, just the oldest man in town. And a grump, as well. But everyone treated him as if he were the mayor, as an act of street magic. A psychic pay-off. “Hmph,” answered the mayor, as he flitted his hand in the air, shooing the barker away. But the barker stood where he was and smiled as the mayor passed by and in. It is a service industry.
The old man came as a tradition. He had experienced a good night here, at a traveling carnival, so many years ago it was the last century. And he relived it, just a taste. A tantalizing remembrance faded through the years. When he was here it was as close, and as far, to or from the fact as he got. It was happiness and sorrow. Punishment and reward. But it was best not to speak of it, for it was, at its heart, at that time, forbidden.
Inside a tent, people gathered before the stage. They were muted. There was an eagerness to proceed. The crowd stood hungry. Alert. The curtains billowed. “Ladies. Gentlemen. Fear-st your eyes at the sight. Incomparable. Are we not all in our heart alone? Do we not stand by ourselves in the wilderness looking for a trail? A clearing? A safe shelter? This girl was kept down in the cellar at the estate of her family and spoken of only in hushed tones. But here, at last, now…”
And the curtain parted. And she sat overlooking the crowd. And there was an instinctual gasp, collective. As all viewed her in silence thereafter. It was even as if the mayor was impressed. They looked at her. And she at them.
It was what they did. The onlookers looked on. But what would the spectacle do? It was the spirit of reciprocity. If they could look in, we could look out. For what is one to do when they are reduced to spectacle but to become a spectator? To look out from oneself. To assimilate. They look at us. We look at them. And we wonder.
The faces, the bodies. The hidden truths unspoken. Passions. Dreams. Lusts. Hope. Illusions. Disillusionment. Despair. Apathy. Silence. Depression. Look out at them and read it in their faces and bodies. Worn in. Weared out. Lost. Each, in their way, lonely. Abandoned somewhere, sometime. Time passed and no one said nothin’. Then the curtains closed.
“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, I am always impressed by the maturity of our patrons. And we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. And if you will proceed to the next attraction I’m sure you will find something quite different, though who can say what one sees rather than another? A matter of perspective.”
The old man was bitter. All he saw! He saw! The mayor he was resolute. “Weren’t nothin’ wrong with that girl ‘ceptin’ the…” But he got pushed aside by the crowd as they made for the exit, and on to the next social distraction, talking about how shocking it was. A release valve for the strain of the mainstream. There but for grace…
When he was a boy he saw a theatrical extravagance, or so it was billed. Two men presenting selections from the bard, but they were just making it up, talking gibberish. And while it got good word of mouth in the beginning, by the end the town came to tar and feather the charlatans, who escaped before the last show, leaving all the people in town alone in the hall with rotten produce, tar, and feathers. And no one would talk about what happened next. But the old man remembered. And he laughed. But people today ain’t got the sense of yesterday.
The Rabbit needed a place to rest. And the safety in the open was a matter, as usual, of grave importance. So he claimed the right of the land and began to dig. Down. Sloping down. Into the cool and welcoming Earth. Some creatures were displaced, with as much grace as could be administered in the circumstance, and a network of tunnels joined the network of tunnels that formed the local underground. A refuge of perpetual night.
One digs to escape, dig it?
There were Moles in the underground.
It was to be expected. As the rabbit was relaxing after a cool dig, in the cool splendor of his new digs, one of the moles literally tripped over him.
“I say, who’s there?” shouted the Mole in a horse whisper.
“I am just an adventurer,” said the Rabbit. “I am not a fighter.”
One digs to escape, dig it?
“Well, sir,” said the Mole, “You are a malingerer! Hiding away from the troubles of the world! A shirker. What do you say for yourself?”
“At the moment,” said Rabbit, “Nothing.”
The accusation was not without some merit.
“Deadly silence,” said the Mole.
And there were dim eyes all around. The underground. Moles in the underground. Suspicious. For good reason.
One digs to escape.
“We are the consolidated underground,” said the Mole. “We are what is left of those who came before. Scraps. Bits and pieces.”
“Where will you go from here?” asked Rabbit.
“Onward,” said the Mole. “To the inevitable ending. We fight no longer to win, no longer is it personal survival which drives us. We fight especially hard when we cannot win, for then our actions matter even more. For then it is a matter of righteous history.” He shrugged his slight shoulders. “We travel the underground. It provides escape routes and comfort. Comfort is, you know, fleeting in this world.”
Among the Moles were scattered others. To the far side was a Shrew. Her eyes illuminated and flickered reflecting the Rabbit’s light.
“Now,” said the Mole, “We construct the story of our glory. Battling against great odds we keep true to our ethics. And hope that our ideals emerge victorious. You see young Vanja. She joined us after her village was destroyed. We have scattered into cells and travel the tunnels. We emerge one at a time and tell our story at random locations, to random listeners. Then we retreat back underground. It is the only way. Vanja is particularly adept at this kind of warfare. It is like starting a thousand fires. It is uncontrollable. It is unconquerable.”
“Have you heard,” said Vanja, “The song of the traveler? It is reverberating everywhere. The traveler landed in a field. Fell out of the sky. And arose. It was a celebratory feast the traveler had landed on the outskirts of. There were park benches and food. Flowers. And merriment. But the traveler saw above the festivities hung the body of a man, dangling over the events. Still. And no one else gazed toward the sight. Instead children played and lovers fraternized, even quarreled over trifles, while above the man twisted in the happy breeze. And the traveler said, ‘Who is that man? Why does he hang around here?’ And the crowd turned ugly. For it was not a topic for polite conversation. And words were minced. And there were misunderstandings and malice. And the traveler left, for it was not the destination, you see, but afterward people kept looking at the hanging man, who they had previously forgotten. And they were ashamed. But they did not know what to do about it. And that is how the picnic was spoiled, but there were disagreements about why.”