A few miles east of the remains of a fairgrounds, a gopher stuck its head out of its hole and squinted into the boiling afternoon heat. It looked around curiously, surveying the land for any threats. After a few minutes had passed, it ducked down and chattered to its fellow rodent.
"Okey doke, Pius, I think the coast is finally clear! The Party Poopers have finally left!" The little animal spoke perfect English, in a sharp, brusque manner that had an air of permanent exasperation.
"Thank goodness. I don't think I could have coped with the smell of rotting gopher much longer. Why didn't they come over here? I'm sure a pond of blood and guts would have merited some interest, even if it was just gopher." The second critter spoke in a much calmer tone, though it was clear he was feeling somewhat strained from being pent up in a dirt hidey-hole.
"Morty's been cleaning up at night. For a sadistic little beast, he's surprisingly good at covering up his messes."
"Ah, well. That explains it. Where did Mortimer run off to anyway, Eugene?"
The two gophers turned their heads upwards to see a neon green rabbit peering back at them through their hiding spot. Its mouth curved upward in a malicious grin to reveal a mouth full of forked tongues. It hissed with mischievous laughter. "Wowwee! Wowwee!"
"Mortimer, dammit! Get down here now! Do you know how much Fun-Lovers are wanted by the others!" Eugene the Gopher bristled, showing no signs of alarm at the peculiar rabbit, only indignation.
"I thought you said we were climbing out?" Pius said politely.
"I— I just meant— fine. Get out of here." Eugene snapped.
"Gladly," Pius replied, and the two gophers clambered out of the hole into the hot grassy plains of the former Circus site. For a fraction of a second, the gophers seemed to shimmer and bubble in the sun's glare. An instant later, two stereotypical-looking circus clowns stood in the place of the rodents.
"Good to be a Clown again, Eugene?" Pius asked his taller companion as he flexed his shoulders; a large layer of dust sprinkled down from his costume.
"On the contrary, I'm more than a bit irked," Eugene snapped. "I would have preferred being normal right now, but I doubt I can pull off another transformation stronger than this; I'd need more Clown Milk than we've got at the moment."
"How long is the walk to the grounds?"
"Not long with a Mortimer! Get over here and give us a ride!"
The rabbit gave a final "Wowwee!" before jumping up a good eight feet into the air. A swirl of dust and a loud crack followed. A second later, the rabbit was gone, replaced by a chittering, amorphous sac of black liquid supported by a dozen or so human arms. The thing shuddered once more, then sprouted a pair of rudimentary wooden chairs on its back. It lowered its body as the clowns hoisted themselves up.
"Mortimer, any milk on you right now?" Eugene asked the pitch-colored thing.
The beast rippled unhappily in response; an empty sloshing noise could be heard within the sac.
"Damn. Not enough to pull off a Ringer. Let's hope something's left at the grounds to make Morty happy. He already blew through the gophers here."
"Try to stay calm this time, Eugene," Pius said solemnly. "You'll waste your Milk supplies if you get all fired up."
"Shut up, Pius," Eugene snapped.
Chitter, chitter, chitter. The Clowns' mount clicked and rumbled.
"Shut up, Morty."
And with that, the two exhausted Clowns and their Eldritch ride skittered to the Circus grounds.
As the unusual trio neared the burnt remains of the old Circus grounds, Eugene the Clown swore.
"We're going to be hard-pressed to find anything here," he groaned. "The place has been torched." All around, patches of burnt grass and ashen wood frames clouded the air with smoke and dying embers. Mortimer came to a halt as they came to the central Big Top. The Clowns dismounted, and the Eldritch sac took off in search of new ways to amuse itself.
The Big Top tent post, surprisingly, was still standing, though apart from that, there wasn't much left. The seven meter tall wooden stake was firmly driven into the ground at the center of the abandoned fair. Scraps of scarlet and gold fabric shuddered and flapped in messes and tangles of wire, splinters, and string. Heaps of charred wooden seats ringed the once proud setting of the main attraction. Right outside the ring of ash and dirty red and dirt, several, smaller heaps of deformed, blackened metal sunk into the dust. Concession stands. A little further off, several more booths that were once home to carnival games smoked softly. There was not another living soul in sight.
Eugene sighed. "Everyone except us got out. Of course. Morty had to go play Hack-a-Mole when the Call went out."
Eugene loved being part of the Circus of the Disquieting, though he was, to say the least, unhappy at the moment. It had been seventy years since he and so many others of his kind had first met Herman Fuller and traveled the worlds for countless performances that befuddled and awed every audience. Every show was a new, thrilling experience; the Clowns wanted the fun to go on and on and on.
And that was what Fuller promised. A lifetime of entertainment for everyone, for all the Clowns. Entertainment was hard to come by in their own home. Things could be downright dull, so the Clowns were eager to join the Circus when it became clear that Fuller could ease their boredom, which, in itself, said something about Fuller's confidence in his abilities; the first Clowns that had come in were, to say the least, monstrous; they were too unstable to be fit for regular Circus Performances. As a result, the creatures who were employed by Fuller were required to stunt their growth, abilities, and primal violence to the point where they could be, at the least, accepted without too much concern for worry.
Eugene cursed again. "I bet the Higher Clowns are sitting on their asses just clowning around right now. No one cares about two miserly Lessers! We're just the Highers' dogs!" he lamented. "Oh, the freaking humanity!"
"The term humanity doesn't apply to us," Pius corrected as he knelt down to look at a ruined cotton candy machine. "And yes, we do serve the Higher Clowns, but it's far from a slave system." Then, frowning in disappointment, he added, "No good here; all the Milk's spoiled from the heat. It burst all over the vat."
"Well there has to be something we can use to get Morty up and running!" Eugene spat. "And it'd better not involve me! I don't want to become a Fun-Lover's punching-milking-bag-thing again!" The Clown shuddered as it recalled a vivid image of it being forced to turn into a cherry-red wobbly heavy bag so it could keep Mortimer occupied and away from the audience.
"You'd prefer being abandoned by the Circus and left to whither from Milk Deprivation? It will take Mortimer at least a week to make a gallon of Milk for just one of us if we don't let him off the chain for a bit. Give a little to win a little," Pius remarked curiously, regarding Eugene as he was a mildly interesting thing found within a rotting log.
"No, I just want to stop being someone who has to do all the dirty work!" Eugene shot back. "How'd we get stuck with that Fun-Lover anyways? I thought that after Marlene was transferred I had requested one that just needed company to be milked, not one that was a sadistic little twit!"
"Mortimer was given to us under…special circumstances if I recall," Pius said as he walked towards another melted concession stand.
"Aside from the psychotic milking needs? I thought violent Fun-Lovers were shipped back home."
"Don't you remember, Eugene? Honestly, you'd be much better off paying attention instead of moping all the time when someone's talking; in fact, your attitude contributed to the Higher-Ups giving us the "sadistic little twit". Anyhow, allow me to lay it out for you…"
Behind Eugene and Pius, Mortimer returned with a box of two dozen twisty balloons, honking and hissing reproachfully as it continued to walk with an empty fluid sac. It plopped down and turned one of its arms into an air hose. Its remaining hands, which were surprisingly dexterous, began inflating and tying the balloons until it had sixteen balloon animals ranging from dogs to monkeys to cats. It loaded a handful of pebbles into one of the remaining eight balloons and inflated it to near bursting before shaping it like a shotgun. Then it popped it, sending the miniature rocks hurtling towards a pair of rubber turtles, which both deflated with hissing floops… Mortimer clapped its hands and repeated this antic seven more times until the balloon zoo was mowed down completely. The milk sac on its back filled slightly, maybe a dozen milliliters, though Pius and Eugene didn't notice.
"…Mortimer was sent off with Trisha to go scout for potential show additions," Pius lectured.
"Oh, yeah, Trisha, I remember her," Eugene interjected. "What happened to her?"
"She was… Inflated after Mortimer got out of hand during their search," Pius said, with a tone of sadness in his voice. "It was at some artist's convention; Mortimer went bonkers when he saw one of the pieces."
"Which one was that?" Eugene asked.
"A total deathtrap thing. Lots of needles and sharp stuff and explosions, the whole lot. It was supposed to represent some human element."
"You mean ignorance? Downright, complete, and utter asininity?" Eugene gave a short bark of laughter.
"Something like that," Pius responded, smiling slightly in spite of himself. "We confiscated it from Mortimer after he somehow managed to take it right out from under their noses. I don't even know why anyone in their right mind would have displayed it to begin with, though the artists Trisha had been sent to go look at were…odd. I remember hearing something about how everyone should "chill" in the report."
"Human slang, sometimes."
"I know, right?"
"Go on." Eugene implored Pius to get to the point. Meanwhile, Mortimer, now in a form resembling a monstrous, half-mechanical praying mantis, was taking helium canisters and chopping the seals off with transformed bladed forelimbs. One sped straight towards Pius' head, who casually sidestepped the projectile. The canister snapped the Big Top pole in two and continued skidding for a good hundred feet. Eugene wasn't so lucky, and caught one right in the back, sending the Clown sprawling face first into the dirt, where he stuck out like a nail.
"Wowwee! Wowwee! I 'da Champ! I 'da Champ!" Mortimer laughed again.
Eugene pushed himself out of the crater, and rubbed his nose, his eyes watering. "Son of a Flame-faced man, looks like I'm gonna have to be the punching bag after all. And why the hell does he keep repeating that?"
"Freak Show if I know," Pius replied in a singsong voice. "Shall I continue?"
"Go ahead," Eugene growled, glaring at the gloating Fun-Lover. He was beginning to see red, and his ears were ringing, though he couldn't tell if it was from the melting make-up or just his anger. Then, looking back, he saw Pius cocking an eyebrow at him in mock disapproval. "I'm staying calm, Pius."
"Ahem, I doubt it. Eugene? Dial back on the steam engine state, will you? The rest of us don't want your…spout to blow." Pius gave a little smirk as he watched his colleague try and get his temper down.
Eugene felt the top of his head. "Shit." He had let his shape-shifting get out of control again; an old-style train smokestack had sprung out from his skull and was now billowing copious amounts of black smoke while whistling shrilly. "Screw you, Pius," Eugene snapped at Pius' chiding, still staring daggers at Mortimer. However, the smokestack retreated back into his head. "Better?" Eugene asked.
"Good." Pius smiled. "You're learning a bit of patience and tolerance today, Gene. That's very good for getting a promotion."
"Don't call me that," Eugene grumbled.
Forty Minutes Later
"…and so, after you gave Head Arby lip, he gave you Mortimer because it was so fond of you. The End." Pius finished his monologue, grinning to himself. He doubted his audience of two was even listening anymore, though he was thoroughly enjoying the spectacle unfolding before him.
"Well, it seems they brought the Circus back to town single-handedly. Fuller would be delighted."
Mortimer and Eugene were engaged in a violent but very one-sided fight that began after Eugene called Mortimer "Mort" around the thirteenth minute of Pius' tale. The ensuing tussle had leveled what was left of the Circus, yet strangely had brought some life back into it as well. The merry-go-round horses had been thrown off their ride and were now frantically galloping and whinnying in place as they tried to run away in terror. Boxes of Herman Fuller Animal Crackers lay strewn over like a miniature zoo and were screeching their respective animal cries as they were trampled underfoot. Leftover masks and costumes had split from their wardrobes and were waltzing and performing acrobatics with each other without wearers, while legged fun-house mirrors stretched and squashed whatever came into their sight, both reflected and physical. A few tumbleweeds rolled by, followed by an ominous rumbling sound of gravel on metal.
Pius sighed. "That'll be the Ferris Wheel." It rolled past him then came to a stop at a melted hot dog stand before falling over on it. Pius smirked. "To go, please." He turned back to take in the wrestling match, which had now moved into the Big Top.
Mortimer, who was now steadily refilling its Milk supply due to the scuffle, was relentlessly swinging a meat cleaver at Eugene's head while in the form of a giant pig wearing a chef's hat. Eugene, who was already low on Milk, was running out of steam.
"I don't care about your story anymore!" Eugene screeched as he avoided yet another vicious knife swing. "Help me already!"
"You were listening to me!" Pius called happily. "Keep up the good work! At this rate we should be able to make a Ring within the next half hour!"
"Eat— my —ack!" Eugene was cut short as Mortimer the flaming, unicycle-riding grizzly bear ran him over. Eugene's clown form shook violently as he lay in the dirt covered in a tire track. He looked like a wax figure struggling to stay solid in a firestorm.
Dear, dear, he's straining to keep his Clown form up, Pius thought. At this rate he'll revert within the next few minutes. Should I intervene? Ah, well, the Highers or Manny can restore him when we get back.
The Fun-Lover pedaled back over to Eugene, who was still lying in the dirt unmoving. Mortimer turned back into its default form, and began prodding the Clown with its hands. It rolled him over. Eugene gave a withering glare at the walking udder. That was enough for Mortimer to decide there was still some life in his plaything. The Fun-Lover turned into a literal Hammer-head shark. It swung its iron mallet face downwards towards the unfortunate Lesser Clown, who, by now, was simply too upset and too low on Milk to resist. When the hammer struck, the Clown crumpled and dissolved into a black puddle with a sploosh and a gurgle. The liveliness around the main attraction continued as if nothing had happened.
Pius stared, raising his eyebrows in genuine surprise. Perhaps less than a few minutes. "Oh, dear me," he sighed, looking down at the shallow pool and shaking his head. "That was a little rough, Mortimer."
The Fun-Lover peeled its head away from the Clown and reverted back to its many-armed sac form. It had finally stopped laughing. The vesicle was now bloated with black liquid.
Pius grinned at the full Milk supply. "Though, I guess you had your reasons. Well done."
"You piece of—squick, pbbttth, plbbrrrtthh…" An angry high-pitched bubbling emanated from Eugene the Puddle.
"Hello, Gene. You've finally come to. Look! Mortimer has enough Milk to take us back, I believe!"
A dozen pair of short eye-stalks and tentacles sprouted from Eugene's "body." He had reverted into his weaker, "Normal" form, and was now violently cursing his attacker with a barrage of gurgling and hissing.
"Hush now, Eugene. Thank you, really, for taking one for the team," Pius said to the puddle. "We'll get you fixed up soon enough." The still whole Clown knelt down and scooped Eugene in his hands. "Mortimer! Time to go home!"
The now full Fun-Lover made one last transformation in the abandoned fairgrounds: an enormous, scarlet rotary phone, with a large, transparent vat of Clown Milk replacing the power cord. The dial wheel turned, and the receiver sprung into the air, then slammed down on Pius and Eugene; a hissing noise could be heard from within, along with the inward sucking of a vacuum and the clicking of safety belts. Two spherical bulges snaked their way through the receiver cord and squeezed into the main phone body; Pius and Eugene had just been sucked into the main cabin right behind the dial wheel. The vat gurgled as the viscous black liquid flowed from it to be pumped. A firework shot out from each of the ten numbers on the dial wheel; a glowing clown face exploded into existence, illuminating the ruined Circus grounds with renewed light for a final time as the abandoned props now all engaged in a frenzied jig.
"Thank you for watching! We hoped you enjoyed the show!" The firework called, bursting into a rainbow of stars and confetti. The sparks encompassed the ground like a dome.
The phone hovered off the ground, crackling as Clown Milk boiled, beginning the Ring sequence that would take the Clowns and their Fun-Lover back to the Circus. There was a resounding crack. All the re-invigorated Circus items collapsed.
And then Eugene, Pius, and Mortimer were gone, leaving silence behind.
YOU HAVE REACHED THE MAIN LINE FOR HERMAN FULLER'S CLOWN TRANSPORTATION SERVICES. PLEASE HOLD WHILE AN OPERATOR LOCATES YOU. THANK YOU FOR CALLING, AND HAVE A PLEASANT REST OF YOUR DAY.
♪ Entry of the Gladiators♪
"…prbtthhhllthlth-king hold music."
"Eugene, you're back!"