The circus was descending the impossible stretch of night caught beneath the ceiling of the forest. I saw it first as a dancing moon in the displaced sky, spinning like a giant top. Instantly, the cavernous forest became the backdrop upon which was projected a gigantic magic lantern show, coagulating light and shadow sculptures of lurching freak shows, crooked lines of groaning carnival rides, secreted shadow puppets pressed grotesquely against the taut skin of lurching circus tents.
Then glided down nameless, faceless crowds, whispering out from the deep recesses of the surrounding woods. They took their places among the congealing spirits of the spectral circus—gawking and cheering at the solidifying sights.
Once the circus was entirely manifest, I felt myself drawn to the tent with the brightly overstated banner that announced, “The Inimitable Mister Gone and his Magic Box from The Great and Vanishing Nowhere.” I merged with the surging crowd pouring beneath the banner and into the high-steepled tent, the sounds of blazing autumnal leaves cackling underfoot. I eagerly took my seat among the spectating specters, hoping to see what might pass for magic in this newer, darker world, where wonder walked without worry or consequence.
Within moments, intricate lanterns dimmed where they squatted atop alabaster pillars, all of them semi-circling a stage of polished stoned, now wet with bleeding light. The darkness created by the dying lanterns gathered at the center of the stage, wheeling and tumbling like a galactic spiral, ever growing. A form, tall and gaunt, stepped without the curling dissonance of sight and shadow, its leanness broken only by a ridiculously oversized magician’s hat. Here was Mister Gone, no doubt.
Against a sheet of cosmically embroidered blackness, stars and nebulae turning through endless ink, the magician delivered a magnificent bow to the cries and coos of the audience, his eyes points of strange light against a rippling canvas ceiling. Upon regaining his not insignificant height, he began, “What is magic to the magical, if not the common furnishings of a new world banality? This game of lost causalities must be elevated to a new level of absurdity, to a plane of impossibility that draws cries of incredulity from even the insane. Why, I must illuminate the impossible, without spilling so much as a drop of mystery. A balancing act performed upon the cutting edge of a moonbeam, to be sure. But rest assured, my friends, I know the words and ways of the most calamitous magic, if such an outmoded word supplies the things I speak of with even a speck of specificity.” I belonged to the magician, body and soul. His words were brilliant lights at dusk, zipping just above the trees, setting off radon detectors and casting radioactive shadows —I was in awe.
Mister Gone retreated from the edge of the stage, tracking the bleeding lamplight across the gleaming stone. Darkness rose up behind the conjurer, assuming various geometric confusions until alighting finally upon the shape of a tall box, carved from equal parts shade and wood. The inimitable illusionist entered the vessel, only his glittering eyes visible, ice chips upon a pillow of infinity. The box closed. I was on my feet, my eyes searching but not wanting to see. I was desperate not to comprehend, if only to prove the magician an honest man.
The lanterns died into a universe of cooling pitch—the silence before and after the world. The gloom was unending. I could wait no longer, so I tested the darkness with my hand. My touch cracked open a tall, narrow door—which looked out upon a stage of dull stone, rows of toppled empty seats wrapping around it on both sides. I stepped out of the box, upon a stage, behind the ancient remains of rusted lanterns and beneath the torn and flapping rags of a canvas ceiling. I now stood beneath an open sky, from which tumbled the remains of the day—illuminating the ruin of an ancient circus that stood crooked and ruined amid the sprawl of a dead forest. I clapped until my hands stung. Here was the Great and Vanishing Nowhere.
I was thrilled to think of this new world as a ripped hole in the universe, a fracture in the mechanism of solidity, allowing for passage into everywhere and perhaps nowhere all at once. I might very well have been strolling through an inversion of a perversion of a petrification of dream. And despite the perhaps deliberate attempt at melancholy, I found the aesthetics of the Vanishing Nowhere to be likeably bittersweet, a blackened toy in the basement of the universe.
The dead forest gradually vanished into a field of diseased corn. There was no sun that I could see, save for a few fractured remnants of daytime, scattered here and there throughout the mostly dark and clouded sky. Occasionally, I glimpsed the passing of orange and gray balloons drifting high overhead. Out of idle curiosity, I decided to backtrack their course. Perhaps I would stumble upon fresh wonders to behold.
The landscape slowly sank into a sea of widening shadows, and a single beam of dimming daylight became a mere vertical horizon in the vanishing distance. I noticed that in areas of most concentrated shadow, I could feel a slight bit of resistance to my movement—a pleasant otherworldly physics, that.
The wind blew just right, bending the stalks of a nearby wheat field sufficiently downward, and I saw a man standing midway into the sweptback turf, behind what looked like a carnival booth festooned with orange and grey balloons. He appeared to be holding one out for me. Having found the source of the high-flying oddities, I made my way over to what I soon realized was a poorly made-up clown.
The wind intensified and began gusting from all directions. Quickly, I found myself in the stormed-tossed waves of a grain field, and no less steady for the solid ground beneath me, as it seemed to be deliberately quaking and twisting, trying to steal me from my feet. I was lashed by wind-whipped stalks and buffeted by monsoon-strength squalls. Even some of the pockets of denser shadow began to uproot and tumble towards me. The gelatinous patches struck me and spread like clots of spiderwebbing, entangling me in a sticky fabric of tangible darkness.
From close beside my ear, I heard my father roaring into the wind for me to take him up. I did just that, raising him high into the twisting, perpetual dusk. I swung him without reserve or design, allowing my benefactor’s hunger to deliver him where he wished to go. The satisfying crunch of failing bone occurred in tandem with a brief interruption to my father’s momentum. The wind died immediately, and my rageful ancestor lay on the other side of what was once a whole clown, now only a dead thing that lay in two pieces among the flitting stalks and pooling shadows, a gray balloon still clutched in its hand. Fascinatingly, the clown’s innards consisted of little more than a fragile scaffolding of cartilaginous-looking plant matter and a smattering of transposed decaying human parts—finishing touches perhaps, to make the whole thing marginally believable. As I drew closer to the false clown, I observed the multitude of corpses scattered all around its booth of drab inflatables. The bodies were honeycombed with feasting roots—even the soil seemed to be leeching blood directly from the pores of the reposed husks.
I had just turned to leave the killing field to its strange business, when I heard the gentle sound of soil being slowly displaced. Something in the likeness of a towheaded little girl was being methodically pushed up through the topsoil, her dirty hair barely catching the honeyed glimmer from the remaining fragments of daylight. At the very moment the thing’s eyes opened, it spoke in the sweetest voice, pleading, “Please help me. I’m lost and I can’t find my mommy.”
Just then, the wind picked up again and the patches of thickened shadow stirred. I patted the clever decoy upon its overly soft head, eliciting a wet and brittle sound. Quickly departing the patch of monstrous earth and its sugared lure, I couldn’t help but wish it luck securing its next meal.
Indeed, the lovely Dorothy was wrong—there’s truly no place like Nowhere.
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