A Pantomime of Deviltry and Debauch in Seven Acts
PERFUME OIL BLENDS
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Presented in an amber apothecary vial.
++ ACT 1: THE PROLOGUE
Tattered and stained parchment signs lead you through a maze of dark woods and damp leaves; a curl of opium smoke, black musk and floral perfume compels you through the darkness towards the firelight in the distance. The faraway wailing of a phantom calliope grows louder as you approach the isolated clearing, and creaking gates announce your arrival. Massive crumbling statues adorn the gates, depicting a surrealistic scene of cavorting imps, grinning demons, and heavy-lidded succubi. A huge neon sign hums and sparks, marking the entrance:
It flashes, “Carnaval Diabolique”.
It is midnight on the midway, and in the air, the scent of nighttime rain, ozone, and heavy summer blooms mingles with thick incense, and a disconcerting blend of sugar and brimstone. Black and orange banners flutter in sinister gaiety, snapping weirdly in the chill breeze as lightning slashes through the sky. In the gloom, the Carnaval thrums with life and unlife; the murmuration is low-pitched, punctuated by gasps, soft cries, and moans, and the smooth, resonant voices of the carnaval talkers, grinders, candy butchers, and pitchmen carry over it all.
An exquisite, enigmatic woman sidles up to you, bearing a tray of strange, dusty curios, chocolate creatures, serpentine taffy, and candied skulls. Her skin is dusky, her eyes are heavy-lidded and sensual, her hair is the fine, soft white of spun sugar, and her skin is softly scented with cocoa. She holds a shrunken head aloft, and beckons.
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++ ACT 2: FIAT NOX
A surge of warm, dark bodies buoys you along, pulling you past the crowded, candle-lit entrances to innumerable tents striped in bone white, blood red, pumpkin orange and twilight violet canvas. Through the shadows cast by the gaslamps and swinging red lanterns, you move through the ghoulish entertainment.
A colorless woman bursts from an elaborate gold and ruby tent and faints dead at your feet. Soft laughter emits from the dark entrance to the tent, and the scent of musk, black fruits and incense touches your senses. Looking up, you see that the sign hovering above the unconscious woman is adorned with images of the Major Arcana’s Tower and reads:
“Mme. Moriarty, Misfortune Teller.
No fate too grim, no future too bleak.”
A tiny woman with floor-length black dreadlocks walks out of the tent, stepping over the prone body. She is clothed in deep red wrappings, and is bedecked in golden ornaments bearing alchemical symbols and charms representing eternity, chance, and wisdom. She pauses, looks you over slowly, and then flicks a tarot card at your feet.
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A handsome, dark-skinned man weaves and dances his way through the crowd. Veves have been burned into the face of his old acoustic guitar, which he strums casually as he strolls though the crowd. A winged Capuchin monkey is balanced on his shoulder, holding out a rusty metal cup. The guitar player’s melancholy chords begin to mingle strangely with a cacophonous jangling sound. The discordant symphony grows and swells as he moves toward a cloaked and hooded figure; this spectre’s skeletal hands operate a dilapidated barrel organ that stands at a crossroads in the midway. As they come together, the music hits a nightmarish crescendo; your heart heaves with longings unfulfilled, your vision swims, and your head is filled with whispered incantations and gallows secrets. In that instant, you suddenly understand the profundity of deals made in Heaven and Hell, and the price of desire.
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Your eyes are drawn to a gilded miniature stage whose sign reads: “All Praises to the Lord of Misrule!” Upon the platform, a sneering wooden jester waltzes with a hollow-eyed and bleeding wooden maiden, while a wooden devil floats above them.
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Behind the diminutive stage, the puppet mistress stands, a pale and grinning Professor, the Lady of Chaos. Her hands are tangled in web-like strings; a swazzle peeks through her violet lips. Behind her, you see a wavering image, with all the vague haziness of a mirage: a leaping coyote, a flame-haired and scarred Norseman, a glittering golden spider, a laughing monkey, a leering satyr, a shadowy flutist, and an African youth dressed in black and red.
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As you pass the tiny stage, you come across a large canvas tent, illuminated within, the exterior dotted with odd splatters. In front of the tent stands a scorched wooden cart covered in a jumble of bottles, jars, vials and twisted steel implements, and an elaborate, gold-gilded sign reads:
“Doc Constantine Cures What Ails Ye!
Liniments, salves, potions and elixirs for every malady of the body and spirit!”
A scream splits the air, jarring you. You see shadows move jaggedly within the tent, there is another scream, and all is suddenly still and silent. After a long heartbeat, the door flap opens. A man steps out wearing a crystal-eyed schnabel mask in the style of medieval plague doctors, carmine streaking his sleeves, vest, and the blonde hair that crowns him. He pulls off the mask, and you see a handsome figure, almost beatific. He rolls a cigarette, lights it, takes a deep pull, and winks at you slyly as he gestures at the multitude of concoctions he has for sale. A bent crone, her body as bowed and knotty as an ancient oak, shuffles up to the wagon with rosy-cheeked, tow-headed maiden following her at a small distance. As she approaches the doctor, the crone gestures at herself, running a gnarled hand down her body in a sweeping movement, and casting a sideways glance at her grandchild. Smiling an angel’s smile, Doc Constantine hands the old woman a potion the color of cold, congealed blood. She drinks it quickly, gasping. Before your eyes her body shimmers and blurs, and a shower of dark sparks seems to engulf her. Where the crone stood, there is now a voluptuous, raven-haired vixen, vibrant, sensual, at the prime of her life and sexual vitality. Her shriek of joy is interrupted by another’s scream of shock: the rigors of age have not vanished; they have moved aside, and the young woman has aged horribly, taking on the crone’s burden.
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From the corner of your eye, you see what seems to be a swirl of pale, translucent spirits. Ghostly in form, their faces are masks of pain and fury. Their insubstantial bodies churn and roil around a hissing, wailing clown. Her greasepaint is smeared with tears, and her fanged crimson mouth is turned down in a vicious scowl while blood drips from her lips. Her costume is torn and threadbare, and a steel-bright glint around her waist draws your eyes to an arsenal of razors, knives, and cleavers hanging from her belt. She swats futilely at the spirits as she shoves and scratches her way through the crowd.
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A chittering buzz rises from a small crowd that has gathered around an opulent velvet-draped tent. Some are fidgeting impatiently; others try in vain to peep within the tent. Within moments, a slim, stunningly handsome man emerges from the entryway to the sound of gasps and scattered applause. His face is lit with fierce joy, and he bows almost smugly to the assemblage. Grabbing a flirtatious blonde from the mob, he kisses her in a rush of mad passion, his arm encircles her waist, and he leads her directly to a nearby opium den. The crowd disperses, and curiosity pulls you forward. You push open the fringed, beaded tent-flap and enter the dimly-lit room. A lovely, voluptuous redhead stands before an ornate antique easel. Her luminous alabaster skin and the phosphorescence emanating from her paintbrush seem to be the only source of light. As you adjust to the gloom, you see that the walls are covered with atrocities: an exhibit of dissolution. The myriad canvases show men and women in various stages of rot and decay, a panoply of indulgence, teeth set in fury, mouths leering in lust, hands grasping greedily.
The scarlet woman turns her gleaming sightless eyes towards you and, in a husky, compelling voice, she speaks:
“Why let the years tear at your youthful splendor? Why let the mark of your sins stain your fine features? Will you let the cold, creeping grasp of time and the toil of temptation mar your visage? Why should the pleasures of our flesh wreak such havoc?”
She leans in close to you and whispers, “Let me capture your soul on this canvas in oil and blood, and you will be beautiful forever.”
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A flash of light and the smell of sulfur seize your attention. A vast black tent stands before you, subtly glowing with an unnatural, almost phosphorescent light. This tent has no pennants, no ornamentation, save for a carved ebony sign, lettered in silver:
Legerdemain, Medium, Conjurer
One thousand years of marvels.
Enter at your peril.”
Another flash blinds you, and from a swirl of smoke a rakish, devilishly handsome man appears, long black hair falling down halfway to his waist, elegant and sinister in an inky silk tuxedo and a voluminous cape. The shadow he casts against the tent, oddly, seems to be that of an enormous corvus, and his eyes radiate a deep azure light. Staring fixedly at you, he snaps his fingers, and two bolts of violet lightning strike the ground on either side of him, blinding you momentarily. As your eyes adjust, you see that two lovely, slender, waiflike women now stand upon the scarred ground beside him, dressed in tattered ballerina costumes the nebulous color of smoke. Turning to his right, he touches the woman’s lips and says, “Seachd seachd uair!” She opens her mouth, and a flock of diminutive bats fly forth from her throat. Turning to his left, he touches the other woman’s hair and repeats, “Seachd seachd uair!” What once was a gleaming mane of stark white hair is now a nest of writhing vipers. She opens her mouth, baring fangs, and spits forth a thin stream of venom. The Master swirls his cape, which suddenly seems to grow and twist like a living shadow, and in a final flash of red lightning and a deafening thunderclap, he and both his assistants vanish.
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As you approach an enormous patchwork tent, a curious sound catches your attention: the rattle of bones and the tinkling of tiny bells heralds the arrival of a gaunt and ghastly creature. An animated skeleton dressed in a jester’s motley saunters towards the front of the tent, waving an orange and black striped cane at the crowd in an effort to clear a path. The jester makes his way past the fog-shrouded, faded, colossal posters that adorn the tent to a platform in front of the massive tent’s entrance. His ivory smile frozen in a gleeful rictus grin, he steps up onto the platform, taps the cane three times, and the jester costume vanishes. Suddenly dark eyes appear in the empty sockets, bones are wrapped in muscle, sinew grows over the bones, blood fills rapidly appearing veins. Before your eyes, the skeletal jester has become a dapper, handsome man, dressed in black and orange, with a skull-ornamented straw hat tilted jauntily upon his shining black hair.
His smile is slick and conspiratorial. With a flourish and arcing wave of his cane, he booms:
“Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! This is Carnaval Diabolique’s notorious 13-In-1: the finest freak show in all the Hells! What marvels await you, you ask? Simply the strangest and most fantastic creatures, human and inhuman, gathered for your entertainment, enlightenment and erudition!”
With the cane, he gestures at the gigantic posters that adorn the tent. The images, once hazy, suddenly come into focus.
“From the depths of the Black Forest: Arachnina, the Spider Girl! From the rain-swept streets of London: Hope and Faith, the Siamese Twins! From ruins of old Aquae Sextia: Wulric, the Wolf Man!
“Thalassa, the Galapagos Mermaid! A vision of life-in-death, Eshe!
“All in all, THIRTEEN anatomical curiosities, miracles of genetics, magick and science, masters of marvels, ALIVE ON THE INSIDE!”
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