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"Hey, are you awake right now?"


"I don't think you're awake yet, but if you can hear me, you've lost a lot of blood."

"I know…"

"Oh, you are awake!"

"I got shot in the foot…"

"Uh… no, you got eaten by piranhas."

"Tell it to me straight, doctor."

"You're gonna make it."

"Amputate my foot?"

"Your foot is going to make it, too."


"Oh, why are you crying?"

"I don't want a wheelchair, doc… I… I wanna walk again…"

"You're gonna walk just fine, in a couple days."

"It's gonna get infected, I'm gonna die!"

"No one's dying."

"I'm dying, we went… who are you?"

"I'm Dr. Tinkles."

"Where am I?"

"I nursed you back to health, you were pretty near death you know."

"Is this the circus?"

"Why, you're welcome! I love when patients show gratitude."

"Who am I?"

"Well, I was told that you're Marty Simmons. Dropped into Nixie's tank — very bad move on your part — and then got interrogated by Manny. He figured you were worth keeping around, so he took you to me, and we're working on getting some blood back into you at this very moment."

"Oh… oh gosh…"

"Hmm?"

"That's a lot of needles."

"Oh yes, we put some spare blood in you."

"Spare…?"

"No, we don't know where it really comes from either. But they sell it real cheap, and it's great for shows. Supposedly they grow it in big blood fruit farms on some moon somewhere. At least, that's the lie we tell ourselves."

"I'm gonna be sick."

"On the contrary, you already are. Blood flow to your head is at an all time low, it's good to see you're awake! That means that enough oxygen has gotten to your brain to give you the capacity to think. You really did lose a lot of blood."

"No! No, don't go back to sleep! We wanna keep you awake! C'mon, buddy, c'mon, we were close!"

"I'm still here…"

"Okay, good, we need to stimulate you. If you're awake, your heart might beat faster and that would speed this whole process up. Sleeping makes your heartrate slow, and we want blood flow, so hey, here, let's sit you upright…"

"Uhh…"

"There we go, how's that feel?"

"I…"

"Mmm? Speak up, now."

"I'm good…"

"Okay, okay, let's keep you talking. So, you got shot in the foot, eh?"

"What?"

"Shot in the foot, you got shot in the foot. Tell me about that."

"Oh, oh, no, I… how'd you know I got shot in the foot?"

"You told me."

"Oh."

"…"

"Well yeah I got shot in the foot, I uh, oh my, I, it's hard to remember with so little blood…"

"Yeah, that's what I'm working on, buddy."

"It's sorta a funny story, you, y'know, heh, I uh, some guy… tried… I, saved… a kid. From a guy. Shot me. In the foot."

"Wow."

"Yeah."

"Some hero you are! How's that make you feel? Where's the kid?"

"Where's… where's the kid?"

"Yeah, where's the kid?"

"Heh… heheh… baheheheh, uheheh, heeheehee… tssss…"

"Mmm?"

"Oh he's just… he's home now…"

"Why the laughing?"

"Oh, just… funny kid, is all… he's probably… fine… doc, you, you sure I should be sitting up? It's so much harder, to think."

"Nope, we're sitting you up. Blood flow and what not. No, no no! Don't move your arms! The needles aren't in so deep, don't want to jostle them."

"Oh dear me, don't, remind me about the needles."

"Right, right, so. Tell me about this kid."

"Oh I, I can't remember all rightly right now, he's just, he's good, I brought him to the… Hall Monitors, they knew, they knew what to do, with a kid like that. Got my, my foot, looked at too. You can't hardly tell I ever got shot. Check it out."

"Which foot?"

"Uhh… it musta been… my right foot?"

"Hmm, yeah, looks like a real sweet job they did. I mean, I don't see any… scar tissue, or anything. You sure you got shot in the foot?"

"You think I'd make up something about getting shot in the foot? Of course I got shot in the foot, it really hurt, it hurt like… like… like hot grease from a burger right off the grill."

"Those must be some greasy burgers."

"I can't metaphor all correctly right now, I've got no blood."

"No, no you're talking a lot better now! How do you feel?"

"Mmm… drowsy."

"Makes sense."

"And parched."

"Parched?"

"Thirsty."

"I can fix thirsty. Give me one minute, I'll be right back. Don't fall back asleep, okay?"

Dr. Tinkles rolled his patchwork chair backwards, stood up, and walked out the small white tent with conviction and purpose. Brainy, given the task to not faint, struggled to stimulate himself. Anything to keep himself awake. He searched the dusty space for any and all details he could catch. The small table of medical tools that he didn't recognize. The big red pluses on each of the six walls. The… IVs. The needles, oh jimminy the needles, and that big, beeping machine that sat at his left bedside. He was sure it was hooked up to him somehow, but he didn't want to search his body for every penetration and where all the tubes led.

Somewhere faintly in the distance — or maybe his muddled head just made things sound further away than they were — he could hear the normal workings of the Circus. Could that be a crowd? That a screaming patron? Some great performance? But it was getting hard to hear.

And hard to see.




"Oh, damn it."

"Oh, mom…"

"I'm not your mom."

"Can we see the elephant?"

"Yes, once you wake up again."

"Can we see the ball man?"

"Gonna have to be more specific."

"Can we get something to drink?"

"Yes."

Splash.

"Aah!"

"Up up up up up, sleepyhead, sit up!"

"Okay, okay, sorry, sorry…"

"Not really your fault, but still. I leave for two seconds to get some water from the spigot —"

"Spigot?"

"Yeah the spigot."

Brainy eyed the mason jar of water.

"I've never had spigot water…"

"Oh it's just like any other water, it's harmless."

"I've never had jar water either…"

"If this thing is clean enough to preserve eyes in it, it's clean enough to hold water. C'mon, drink up."

Brainy avoided the jar like a heaping spoonful of cough medicine.

"Drink it, ya dummy, it's good for you and you're thirsty."

After an uncomfortable amount of shoving a jar into Brainy's face, finally Dr. Tinkles got Brainy to open his mouth and sloppily accept the spigot jar water.

"There! See? Not so bad."

"I'm not a kid."

"You get treated like one if you act like one."

"Mmm."

"Also, got some more blood while I was out. Asked around for some that some people were willing to part with."

"What?"

"Down and dirty world out there. Anyways, I've been sure to give you only O plus, so whatever you are you're good. Do you know what you are?"

"Willing to part with?"

"Stuck on so many insignificant details. Do you know what blood type you are?"

"…I think I'm B+? Also, isn't O minus the universal donor?"

"Do you even have a medical license?!"

"Look, bud, I was taught a lot of things in Clown College, and one of the best things I learned was improvisation. You're in good hands, trust me."

"Oh no oh no oh no —"

"Stop freaking out, if you hyperventilate you might pass out!"


"Oh you dip."

"You stole it…"

"You're really not cooperating here."

"My plant… I watered that plant…"

"You must just be full of stories."

"And you took my gosh darn idea you son of a screw!"

"Son of a whatOw!"

"You stupid red-nosed cracker crumb snorting moldy apple of a person!"

"You hit me!"

"God regretted making you and left you to die, you parentless poor excuse for a human being!"

"Chill the hell out, Marty! Who are you talking to? It's just me! It's Tinkles! Pull yourself together!"

"You—! …You… I… You're not Po— er, you're. Hey. Tinkles. Did…"

"You hit me!"

"Oh. Oh! Oh I'm so sorry! Let me —"

"No! Don't get out of bed, don't move, we don't want you pulling needles out!"

"Oh but I can't help now!! Oh I am so so sorry, I really didn't mean to, I was just, I was going through some tough memories in my sleep, and, and there was this girl with a big round nose —"

"Yeah, you called it stupid."

"— and you have a big round nose and in my half awake stupor I must have… I must have… mistook… you… oh, oh my head, oh cracker jack my head…"

"Yeah, yeah, it's okay, a little bit of delirium is to be expected, just, wow! I didn't think you packed such a punch! Sit back, sit back so you stop getting lightheaded. In fact, drink more water. Ey, eyy, okay there we go! Good, good, you're doing great. Don't fall asleep again. Or punch me. Either of those are bad. Who do I remind you of?"

"Just… oh, this… lady."

"Mmm?"

"Well, lady most of the time. She was — she is, she uh, she has three names, and, she cycles them out. Most of the time she's Polly, but some of the time, some of the time she's Gary, and then they're a he, and then some days she's Ashley when she can't decide or doesn't care, but usually she's Polly, and so we usually call her a she."

"Oh, huh. How can you tell what name she's on?"

"She switches her name tag — or, some clothes are name specific. Some colors too."

"Seems like she made you real mad though. Talk about that."

"T-talk about it?"

"Yeah, you seem real charged, seems like it will keep you awake. Talk away."

"Uhh, you wouldn't want to hear it."

"Why ever not?"

"It might make you cringe to know someone could so cleanly and so regretlessly decimate another person like she did."

"Sounds fun to me. Talk."

"No I mean like, it might want to make you, you know, oh, you could have, bad thoughts, because of it, and I don't, wanna, I have enough bad thoughts for the both of us you know? Heh, heheh, oh gosh, I really do…"

"Whadya mean?"

"What?"

"Whadya mean you really do?"

"…I mean, when, when you've been hurt as bad as I have, it's, even the most, well meaning? Of people, would, I can't foresee them handling it well, either, I think, and it's just, trauma leads to, traumatic. Thoughts. And, so, I find myself thinking, about, uh, maybe, some not so, kosher? Kosher? Things. Things I don't feel like sharing — but you should know, that, you know, they are, gosh, uh, expected. If you were in my shoes, you'd, you'd, you'd think them t-too, and I know that 'cause I was in your shoes, I was, I was at the top of my game, yeah, and, and at any moment that could be swept out from under you, Tinks — Tinkles! We aren't on nicknames yet, I don't think. Uh, doc. Yeah but you could just, wake up tomorrow and, you'd, not have a job, or an anything and, you'd, you'd be mad, you know, if that was from one person, you know, you'd be, you'd, maybe you'd hate, maybe you'd kill — I didn't! I'm just, you seem, like a bloody person, you know? It could, it could, uh, it could happen. I didn't mean to make you out to be a murderer. How else you gonna get all this blood, heh, heheh, but no, uh, no, you… probably have never killed someone. Intentionally. Clown College?"

"Yes, Clown College."

"Wow. That's just, uh, uhh, I had better not think about that, deary, jankies, alright. But you, you you you worked for that, I imagine, you worked for that degree and, or, degree or something, whatever you got, license? You're not a doctor. You're a clown! Capital C? I'd think so. Doctor Clown. And what if one day some other fudging doctor came in and stole your work and your job and kicked you out and what would you do then? You'd think some terrible thoughts. All gone, everything gone, no respite, no revenge, no way to get revenge. And that's where you are. You'd get up to all sorts of trouble. It's really understandable, actually. So that's, that's, uh, 'whadya mean', well that's what I mean. I haven't gotten over her ugly stupid face, and her bulging eyes. They'd probably, gosh they wouldn't be too hard to scoop out with a spoon, how big her ugly stupid eyes are. And her ego. Her big stupid ugly ego. Could swallow a tower. All of Wonder Tower. All of Wonder Tower engulfed in an all consuming never ending uncleanly ego, big enough for everybody. Did I… Did I say 'Polly'?"

"You sure did."

"…I meant… Brainy."

"The hell you mean you meant Brainy?"

Marty / Brainy slammed a heavy fist into the table of medical tools, sending a scalpel or two flying dangerously across the room.

"I meant that cocky lifeless corpse named Brainy."

"Okay, this was a bad idea. You really need to calm down."

"How would you feel if I stabbed you right now?"

"What?!"

"If I gutted you, you'd feel pretty bad, wouldn't you?"

"Marty, nobody's gutting nobody, you hear me?"

"That's what it felt like, doc. No, it felt worse. It felt like he cut me open and strung up my intestines, pulled them slowly away from me with hooks, let the tension build. That's what it felt like, doc." Brainy's hands pulsed in and out of fists. "That's what it felt like and that's what's coming for them. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not the next day, maybe not the day after that, but it's coming, doctor. It's coming and it's not stopping. It's not ceasing. Hooks and needles and all the wonderful ways to tinker with the body. Heh, heheheh, heeheehehehhhhh, I bet you'd know all about that, and that's just, just to start, 'cause that wouldn't, that wouldn't, that… wouldn't… what are you doing?"

"You're going off the deep end, we're gonna settle you right down."

"Right down?! Hey! Hey, no, no get that stuff away from me — ow, ow!"

"No, no stop squirming! You're pulling the tubes out of you!"

"I don't need the tubes, I don't need your stupid blood, I need, I need out, don't touch me, don't touch me! I bite! I have sharp incisors! Canines! And I've been taking my pills! Back! Back! NO! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA mmmMMmmmm, mmMmffff, mmaaaaa… aaa… ooh…"

"You, you good?"

"Ooooh…"

"Phew, yeah. I knew something was up. Feeling better?"

"Haaa…"

"Okay, I'm giving you a prescription, stat."

"Ooo…"

"See these purple pills? You're gonna take, like, one every morning and one before bed. Two a day. It's Emergency Clown Impulse Suppressant, and whatever you got, it's gonna counteract it. You're gonna feel drowsy, cloudy headed, but you'll get used to it. And you not becoming some killer is gonna be worth it, trust me. You thinking clearly yet?"

"I fffffffffeeeeell… fuuuuunnyy…"

"Well I can give you the long of it or the short of it. The short is that this stuff is made for us Clowns, and you, sir, are a human. We're not gonna be entirely sure of all the side effects here. I do have faith that you'll get through it, and this way you won't go all homicidal on us."

"Iiii ain't killinnnnnn' noooobodyyy."

"Sure y'aren't. Not with this stuff. Seriously. You can't not take this. You hear me?"

Brainy shook his head.

"Oh c'mon, you have to. Your other option is I find you and force feed you, just like I just did, again and again. Trust me, I have practice."

"Piiillls, I can't, nnn, piiillls."

"You're setting yourself up for failure, you know."

"Oooohh…"

"You gotta do this one thing for me, buddy. And yourself. You were going off the rails there, my friend."

"…"

"Okay. Well, now I gotta go tell Icky and Manny about —"

"NNO!"

"Hmm?"

"Nnnnnooo, I'm allllreaady, on, thiin ice, I nnneed, ttthhhheyy caan't knooow I'm onnnn the friiitz, plll….pllleaaaase…"

"Mmm. Well, I'll cut you a deal. 'Cause Icky'd get real mad at me if she found out I was keeping secrets from her. Here's my deal. You, okay? You, you take two of these a day, one with breakfast and one before bed, and I won't tell the uppers. Got it?"

"…"

"Got it?"

Brainy nodded half circles.

"Good, ya twit. And I'll be checking up on you, okay? Here, here's the bottle of Emergency Clown Impulse Suppressant, and if ever I don't see it decreasing in volume, or if you act all strange and stabby again, then Icky and Manny are going to hear about it, get it?"

Brainy drooled a bit, but nodded.

"Okay, psycho. Don't go killing people, sheesh."

"Ii'm nnoot viollllennnt, mmm, mm, mmmisssunderstannnndinng."

"Sure, kid. Sure."

"You want some mindless TV to keep you awake?"

"Mmm."

"Alright," Tinkles got up, "let's get you some mindless TV."


"No kidding?"

Dr. Tinkles unscrewed the bottom of his pill organizing compartmental tower, letting the action of pouring out his nightly supplements give punctuation to his dramatic retelling of the day's most interesting patient.

"Yeah, said big red round noses were stupid."

"Shit man," a scrawny teen juggler chimed in from the corner of the brown felt-carpeted room. "What's he even doing here?"

And another pouring himself tea, "What could Manny possibly see in such a psycho?"

"Dunno. Said he had conviction, whatever that's supposed to mean. We're supposed to trust our patrons to whatever rides he comes up with, but I'd hardly trust him with my water bottle."

A tubby pinkish man let out air as he sat down at the small steel and plastic table and shook his head. "Where is the decency in people? You've gotta be kidding me…"

"So how did he try explaining it?" The juggler took a bite of a muffin. "When he woke up?"

"Oh that, see, that's the interesting part. Started talking about some nonbinary nobody back in Wonder World. Named Polly, 'parently had a big red nose too."

Struggling to get the thought out past a sipped cup of tea, "there are Clowns in Wonder World?"

"Honestly couldn't tell ya."

"Oh, and so all Clowns must be the same, huh?" The juggler sneered and stared off at some corner of the room, muttering something.

Tinkles swallowed down several supplements in one big watery gulp. A yellow man, working on a chess puzzle in some newspaper, spoke up in a high tenor. "With this… this crazy, what did you do? Have you told Manny?"

"Oh no, no, don't tell Icky or Manny. Guy says he's on thin ice with them already. I tell him that he needs to take Emergency Clown Suppressant every morning and every night to keep his homicidal urges down, and he tells me, right, that he's not gonna do it. I tell him I'll tell Icky and Manny about this, he tenses up, 'thin ice' he says, and I tell him that I won't tell the higher ups as long as he takes his pills. We shook on it. So unless you want a killer loose in the circus, I wouldn't chance it."

"Every morning and night?"

"Yeah, just to make sure whatever's fucked in his head stays unfucked all day. Gotta make sure the new janitor doesn't go about stealing people's stuff, or peeping on people changing, you know. Keep the creep down."

The yellow one looked concerned. "Do we really know what Emergency Clown Suppressant, or Clown Suppressant in general, does to humans?"

Dr. Tinkles screwed the pill tower back together. "No, not really."

The juggler chuckled. "Righteous."

"So what you're saying," the tubby one chimed in, "is that we ought to stay away from this Marty guy?"

"Oh at all costs. I'm sacrificing my safety just to give him his pills. I wouldn't chance it."

"Clownist asshole," the juggler took his exit through a curtained doorway, somewhere into the dorms of Clown Alley, "what a joke."


"Goodniiiight!"

"Alright, 'night Lolly."

"Sleep weeellll!"

"I can't, but the sentiment is nice!"

And like that, all of Lolly that remained was her sickly sweet scent. If only Pepper could have smelled it. Pepper sighed. A fake sigh, anyways. One that didn't really do anything, seeing as Pepper had no body and thus no real air with which to sigh. It was just a noise she ended up making sometimes. Something leftover from better days. Involuntary reminder of the past.

With no reason to be out and about in the Hall of Humans Extraordinaire, not like she could go very far anyways, Pepper's shimmering apparition faded back into the grubby mirror. Pepper never got many visitors. Perhaps because Pepper didn't want many visitors. At least some people were nice. Lolly made it a point to keep her company sometimes. It was sweet of her. It was hard to get a hang of her personality, but Pepper figured that probably went both ways.

Without the grace of sleep, Pepper was left alone with cold glass and her thoughts. In the dark. All night. Never a good position to be in.


Brainy laid down under what could barely be called an awning, provided by a currently inoperative cotton candy stand. It gave him minimal shelter from the pouring rain, but it at least kept his head and torso dry. His legs could stand it. "It's better than sunny," he thought to himself. "Not like it would be sunny right now," he would continue. The night had snuck up on Brainy like a cheetah in tall grass. The janitor's first night. Well, outside of the infirmary. Dr. Tinkles had been so nice to him, he thought. Just such a stand up figure. And to show his gratitude, Brainy attempted to dry swallow his new prescription. "Back into old habits," he thought. "Good habits."

Unfortunately, Brainy found it difficult, and after choking a few times resorted to collecting water in his mouth from the rain. That worked in a pinch. Brainy knew he was going to wake up all muddy. It filled him with delight. Brainy felt so ecstatically far from his old self, he shook with joy just at the thought of his own comfort with being dirty. "Screw you, Wondertainment!" he said aloud, to nobody. "Screw you!"

Brainy shivered and pulled the towel he had found closer to his chin, pulling his legs in a bit as well. He huddled into himself, attempting to keep warm, and couldn't keep from smiling. His very own rides! In the circus! Giddy, giggling, he massaged his bruised shin. "That's alright," he thought. "Better than alright." He rubbed his hands together and turned on his side, attempting to find a comfortable position to rest his head without his hair getting caked with mud.

"This is gonna be great."




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